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#42 - JRL 2006-279 - JRL Home
RIA Novosti
December 12, 2006
Russia and NATO - the second epilogue

MOSCOW. (Sergei Karaganov for RIA Novosti) - NATO's summit in Riga in late November mostly focused on explaining the need for its switchover to a new strategy.

NATO wants to concentrate on operations outside its zone of responsibility with a view to ensuring international security and stability in the interests of its members, and in response to emerging global challenges.

The second tacit goal is to justify NATO's existence in the eyes of the societies and elites of its old members, who are getting wary of its expansion.

Afghanistan was the main subject at the forum. NATO's operation to stabilize the situation there is suffering serious setbacks. The old members of the alliance have got used to a comfortable life under U.S. protection, and are not too enthusiastic about sending their troops to Afghanistan. Moreover, they insist that their troops should abstain from military operations.

Judging by the media coverage in this country, the problem of relations with Russia was almost dominating at the summit, and NATO's attitude to us was hostile. This is not true. Allied documents, and speeches of NATO officials describe relations with Russia in respectful and constructive manner. NATO's participation in ensuring energy security was mentioned only indirectly, and informally the officials discussed it in the context of protecting sea routes and pipelines from acts of terror. Russia was not even mentioned.

It is hard to guess why Russian media outlets offered the summit a biased coverage. Possibly, the commentators were merely too lazy to peruse its papers. Just as possibly, they know bad news is more catchy than good. To all appearances, however, the true reasons were far less excusable. Some people in Russia, as in the West, feel the edge has gone from their life with the end of the Cold War. They need enemies to get the pep. Imaginary enemies do fine when there are no real ones. Another reason, that appeared more recently, lies in an inferiority complex we Russians developed in the Soviet years. The complex burgeoned in the 1990s to give us a mutually contradictory blend of bloated pride with paranoid fear of encirclement and pressure.

Clearly, we are not being encircled, and this is simply not possible but relations with the West are rapidly deteriorating. We have always been accused of "imperialism" - when the Soviet regime still had enormous military power, but maintained strategic defense, and was eroded from within; or in the past decade, when the state was almost non-existent. But current criticism is truly unprecedented in the last 20 years.

In Riga, speeches by the politicians and political scientists that do not express official views evinced a clear upsurge of anti-Russian attitudes. Needless to say, Polish, Baltic, and Georgian representatives were in the lead. Their awkward attacks, engendered by centuries-long phobias, could not but cause a smile - they were too clumsy and comical.

This emphatic criticism and even attacks on Russia can only partially be attributed to the phobias of the newcomers or to disappointment with its growing strength on behalf of those who hoped that it would be tied hand and foot by debts and weakness for a long time, if not for good. Russia's competitiveness is particularly irritating against the background of current U.S. failures, old Europe's reluctance to play a global role, and its increasing vulnerability in energy and other spheres, and, most important, its growing conflicts with the United States.

One more explanation is that the majority of politically active people in the West are really disappointed with Russia's domestic situation. Apparently, we have crossed the point beyond which post-chaotic conservative consolidation acquires a reactionary image.

But I believe that the main reason is America's bid to use NATO's mechanisms in order to prevent Europe from drifting away from its overseas defender and patron.

A number of authoritative advocates of this approach demand that relations with Russia be revised on the grounds that they may be based not only on a mix of cooperation and competition but also on confrontation. They want to turn Russia into an enemy once again in order to discipline Europe, and make reliance on the U.S. a sine qua non for it, as it was in the past.

These considerations probably explain a highly exotic speech delivered by Senator Richard Lugar at a conference which was held in parallel with the NATO summit. He urged NATO to become an instrument of exerting pressure on energy-producing countries, above all, Russia in order to prevent them from using energy as a weapon. The Senator is a top professional, but he used absolutely inadequate arguments, which suggests a desire to conceal the real reasons behind his appeal. Among other things, he implied that arm twisting be used at forcing foreign investment into the energy sector. Such hints are totally beyond the pale, but they went almost unnoticed by the Russian media.

Lugar's high sounding recommendations on NATO's contribution to ensuring energy security proved to be hollow. In effect, he urged NATO to compensate the countries that may suffer losses from discontinued energy supplies. But the European Union and Russia already have such agreements. If supplies stop, the affected countries and regions are supposed to receive gas through a network of pipelines. This procedure has already been tested.

In effect, this is an attempt to oust the EU from the sphere of ensuring energy security, in which it has occupied a leading role. This is not so much anti-Russian as an anti-European policy.

I don't believe that Lugar's recommendations will be translated into reality unless the West Europeans are suicidal.

But if these impractical appeals still become the foundation of new NATO's strategy, Russia, under any regime, will have to concentrate its resources on building eastward gas pipelines, and abstain from long-term contracts with Western consumers. Carte blanche will protect it against a potential military-political blackmail on behalf of consumers.

On the whole, the NATO summit was neutral as regards Russia as well. It reaffirmed the line towards cooperation. There was an attempt to use Russia as a scarecrow in order to discipline the alliance and restore its unity. But this goal will not be easy to achieve unless we play up to NATO by turning into a scarecrow of our own free will.

Sergei Karaganov is Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.