Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#14 - JRL 7216
June 9, 2003
Delayed Decision
By Iskander Khisamov

In nine days from May 26th to June 3rd, Russia’s president held negotiations with all the country’s strategic partners. Everything began in Moscow with a meeting with the new Chinese leader Hu Jintao. Then came the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit meeting at which its leaders decided to make it a permanent international institution complete with its own executive agency and defense component, the Regional Antiterrorism Center. Completing their agenda, summit participants then went to St. Petersburg and took part in the festivities surrounding the city’s 300th anniversary. In between events, organizers spontaneously wedged summit meetings with the CIS countries, EU and Russia, and Russia and the US. The parade ended with Putin participating in the G8 meeting in Evian, France.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this diplomatic grand tour. First, that Russia today does not have any enemies, at least not on the nation-state level. Second, that it also does not have any friends, or even more or less reliable allies, meaning countries whose loyalty will predictably last the year.

Words and symbols

These were the first meetings between world leaders since the war in Iraq led them to opposite sides of the barricades. As a result, symbols and gestures have attained great significance. The hidden animosity between the major powers of “old-world” Europe and the US was reflected in the proposals brought to the G8 table. The American brought up the need to end agricultural subsidies, a direct dig at France, the largest recipient of such subsidies in the EU. In response, the French called for discussion of corporate management ethics, recalling the recent discovery of major financial gerrymandering at several US companies, and the development of corresponding regulations. As a result of these debates the final document, the Declaration on Fighting Corruption and Increasing Transparency, contained antiseptic statements of intent regarding future economic openness, “including agricultural and non-agricultural products, as well as services.” In addition, documents prepared beforehand were approved addressing the issues of expanding growth and the interconnection of forming market economies and of international trade, designed to expand assistance for countries wanting to enter the WTO.

The Europeans and the Japanese made a weak attempt to discuss geo-economic problems appropriate to the level of the meeting, including unpleasant collisions with the dollar and oil prices, but the American delegation refused to talk.

Get used to it

Though the Americans emerged militarily victorious in Iraq, they did not achieve their announced goals. Before the war, the US gave four main reasons why Saddam Hussein’s regime should be overthrown. The first was that Iraq had and was building weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and nuclear weapons. The second: Iraq was a bastion of international Islamic terrorism. Third: human rights were being violated there, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. And fourth: pacifying one of the more militant regimes of the Arab Middle East would create the conditions for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The first three reasons have already been disproved. Subsequent terrorist attacks in various countries showed that the power of Islamic extremism has not been undermined and that these extremists in any case were not in Iraq. Not even the slightest bit of convincing evidence of the presence or development of weapons of mass destruction has been found. The “democratization” process in Iraq is proving extremely difficult, and the majority of the occupiers’ problems are coming from the Shiites and Kurds discriminated against by Saddam’s regime who one would think would be happy to cooperate in building a new Iraq. And if now the Road Map to Peace, drawn up by the US with the help of the EU, UN, and Russia, fails in Israel and Palestine, Bush will be left with nothing. It seems that America, just as all its bitterest opponents claimed, fought the war in Iraq for oil.

While the head of the Washington administration met with Middle Eastern colleagues, his representatives in Evian continued to promote new initiatives to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. The newest idea is to intercept planes and ships suspected of carrying weapons prohibited by international convention or their parts, which contradicts many international rules and regulations. However, the Americans believe that it is impossible to respond to new challenges following old rules. The remaining participants reluctantly agreed to consider it. The plan approved in Evian for improving transportation security will involve multi-million dollar plans to introduce a system for passenger control, in-flight monitoring, and even personal identification via physical characteristics such as retinal scanning, as well as to simply install armored doors to the cockpit. These proposals, first heard at the last G8 summit in Canada, were no less shocking to participants at the time than this meeting’s vessel interception. Yet they resigned themselves and approved them.

At a press conference regarding the decision at the Evian summit to create an Anti-Terrorism Group intended to assist countries without sufficient financial and law enforcement resources, Putin said that Russia will focus its attention on the CIS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization zone. Thus, the Regional Anti-Terrorism Center founded last week as part of the SCO could become part of the G8 project.

Between Iran and Jackson-Vanik

The $20 billion promised by the G8 to Russia for destroying chemical weapons stockpiles under the auspices of the Global Partnership Program, and the exchange of ratification documents with George Bush to limit the build up of strategic offensive missiles were Russia’s real accomplishments during this whirlwind diplomatic tour. There are also symbolic accomplishments: almost fifty world leaders attended the celebration in St. Petersburg; Russia was recognized as a full-fledged member of the G8; and the friendly and even warm relations between Russia and the US were emphasized.

What price did we pay for this seemingly more advantageous position? While still in St. Petersburg, Putin announced that he and Bush had much more mutual understanding about Russia’s nuclear cooperation than Iran than it would seem. The unnecessary mention that nuclear power station at Bushehr will be constructed and its future supply of fuel will be provided under the strict watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as murky statements by representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Atomic Ministry that they need some kind of guarantee from Iran, all give Tehran and the rest of the world the impression that Russia is preparing to turn its back on cooperation. This impression got stronger when Putin joined the rest of the G8 in Evian in demanding that Iran and North Korea refrain from building nuclear weapons. Though Putin himself said at the end of the summit that Russia would continue to work with Iran, everybody knew that Moscow was waffling.

The potential nuclear threat from Iran is a key issue for Washington. On the other side of the scale is a contract that means half a billion dollars a year and several thousand jobs. Reneging on the contract would mean forgetting about Russian exports of machine building and military hardware to Iran. Russia will have lost one of the very few markets for its hi-tech products. In addition, Iran is one of the key political players in Asia and Russia’s influence in the region greatly depends on Iran.

Meanwhile, immediately after the G8 summit, new information was released regarding the US administration’s plans to move troops from Germany to Poland and the Baltic States and to set up bases in Rumania and Bulgaria. We can also assume there will be a constant American presence in Azerbaijan and Georgia, and that America will cultivate military partnerships with Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. This goes against everything, against the letter of the founding treaty between Russia and NATO, against Russian-US bilateral agreements, and against the spirit of what seemed like friendly relations. It also contradicts the many declarations of American leaders that they recognize Russia’s special interests in the CIS region and the informal division of the global fight against terrorism into zones of responsibility.

Much useless ado

According to Putin’s numerous statements, the Commonwealth of Independent States is the main foreign policy priority for Russia. It is invaluable as a market for our goods, as a source of labor, and as a transit corridor, not to mention our cultural, historical, and geographical closeness. In addition, the endless and fruitless wrangling with Europe about the pitiful issue of Kaliningrad and visa, and with America about chicken legs, steel dumping, and the same old Vanik, should convince the Kremlin and the Ministry of Internal Affairs that this is really much ado about nothing.

The Kremlin is trying to get ahead on all foreign policy fronts except the most important one. Meanwhile, the CIS continues to drift apart. The issues of a unified customs zone and a single labor market remain in stalemate.

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