#11 - JRL 7219
No. 21 (376)
June 9, 2003
Russia has to choose between Europe and the United States
Author: Iskander Khisamov, Maria Kravtsova
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
PRESIDENT PUTIN HAS HELD A SERIES OF SUMMITS WITH RUSSIA'S STRATEGIC PARTNERS. HOWEVER, THESE SUMMITS DID NOT RESULT IN ANY BREAKTHROUGHS FOR RUSSIA OR THE WORLD IN GENERAL, SINCE RUSSIA IS RESISTING A CHOICE. INDEPENDENCE AND ALLIANCE WITH EUROPE - OR TOTAL OBEDIENCE TO AMERICA?
Between May 26 and June 3, President Vladimir Putin held talks with all of Russia's strategic partners. The series of meetings started in Moscow, where Putin met with China's new leader Hu Jintao. This meeting was followed by the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, at which this organization was given the status of a permanent international institution and acquired an executive body and a security branch: the Regional Anti-Terrorism Center. After the meeting, its participants moved to St. Petersburg, where they took part in the city's tercentenary celebrations. A CIS summit, a Russia- EU summit, and a Russian-American summit were held during the celebrations. After that, Putin took part in the G-8 summit in Evian, France.
Two conclusions may be drawn from this series of meetings. Firstly, Russia now has no enemies at the level of states. Secondly, it doesn't have any friends either - or at least allies whose loyalty can be predicted for at least a year ahead.
The only results of this series of summits were a promise of $20 billion from the G-8 for destruction of Russia's chemical weapons, and an exchange of ratification certificates with President George W. Bush for the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. There are also some symbolic achievements: almost 50 foreign heads of state attended the celebrations in St. Petersburg; Russia received full status as a member of the G-8; and the attitude of the US administration toward Russia was markedly friendly. Putin no longer stands with Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac against George W. Bush; he is somewhere in the middle.
What price has Russia paid for this more favorable position? Putin announced in St. Petersburg that he has much in common with Bush's position on nuclear cooperation with Iran. This statement, and some others on that issue, gave the impression that Russia intends to discontinue this form of cooperation with Iran. The impression was enhanced when Putin joined in the G-8 demand for Iran and North Korea to give up their plans for developing nuclear weapons. Most likely, Washington's friendly attitude toward Moscow is due to the Americans' hope that they will manage to persuade Russia to give up its nuclear programs in Iran; but if the Kremlin does not yield on that issue, their attitude will change drastically.
Iran's fate hangs in the balance: the neo-conservative core of Bush's team is eager to repeat the Iraq scenario there. A potential nuclear threat from Iran is a key issue for Washington, and it will not calm down until that issue is resolved. On the other hand, the matter concerns a contract yielding $500 million a year for Russia, and thousands of jobs. Breaching that contract would also entail Russia stopping deliveries of machinery and agricultural produce to Iran. Besides, Iran is one of the key political players in Asia, and Russia's influence in this region greatly depends on relations with Iran.
This issue cannot be resolved without quarreling with someone. Russia has to make a choice. It can either give up its role as an independent international political player, and obey Washington in everything; or it can stand its ground, thus losing Bush's goodwill and his promises to repeal the notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment. Moscow does not want to make the choice, and continues to sway between these two options.
Meanwhile, the G-8 summit was followed by new reports about US administration plans to move military contingents from Germany to Poland and the Baltic states, and to set up military bases in Romania and Bulgaria. There are also plans for an American military presence in Azerbaijan and Georgia, and military partnership with Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. These plans come into conflict with the Basic Russia-NATO Act, various Russian-American treaties, the very spirit of our relationship, and numerous statements by American leaders to the effect that they respect Russia's special interests in the CIS. These plans also contradict the informal distribution of zones of responsibility in the global war on terrorism.
Politicians and academics continue to analyze the results of the war in Iraq. Some of them are calling it a crucial moment in human history - a transition to the era of hegemony, unilateral decisions, and voluntarism in international affairs. They say the world has entered a phase of chaos and suspense. Others claim it was just an episode or an experiment in the cause of seeking a response to the challenges of terrorism; and now the responsible nations should study this experiment, identify its lessons, and try to work out what to do next. These states met in St. Petersburg, then in Evian; but they showed no wish to learn any lessons. They only displayed their desire to survive in a situation of political suspense and economic stagnation.
Indeed, even the Americans don't know the final outcomes of their anti-terrorist activities and promotion of democracy around the world. The Europeans continue to build their common home, although its walls already have cracks. For instance, Poland supports America in everything, while America has sworn to take its revenge on France and ignore Germany.
Poland probably believes that this is just a phase, and everyone will get along soon. Those who think that Germany, France, and Russia had a choice on the Iraq issue are mistaken. They had no choice, for many reasons. America identifies terrorism and considers that any and all means may be used against it, including pre-emptive strikes based on suspicions that some nation is aiding terrorists. But Old Europe has extensive experience of various inquisitions and repression; and although it considers terrorism a major crime, it believes that terrorism should be fought by lawful methods, and that this is a job for the police, special services, courts, border guards, and so on. America's approach leads to a devastating global inquisition, but the European approach is unable to counter terrorism. Besides, in Iraq, America was fighting for justice and against terrorism - but it gained "only" oil. It will continue its battle for high ideals, but as a result will gain unlimited global hegemony - or a catastrophe, which is even worse for the rest of the world. But the rest of the world is only protesting, without proposing any alternatives.
VIKTOR KREMENYUK, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE US-CANADA INSTITUTE:
I don't know if current developments in relations between Russia and America can be termed "a warming". Fantasies about some sort of equal partnership between Russia and the US, based on control over strategic weapons, seem naive. America only puts pressure on Russia, without giving it anything in exchange. The US has banished us from Iraq. It is quite obvious that Russian companies will not be allowed to return to Iraq, and that Iraq's Soviet-era debts will not be repaid. And now the US also wants Russia to get out of Iran. Is Russia ready to obey Washington completely? I don't think so. If President Putin continues to keep Russia in the position of America's younger brother, this will provoke a revolt among various political forces in Russia.
The deterioration in relations between the US and Europe only multiplies Russia's problems: it forces Russia to choose sides. If we were not dependent on the US, it would be better for us to ignore it and start developing relations with Europe.
But Russia has the Muslim world to think of, both at home and abroad, and this is a threat to Russia's integrity. Europe can't help us fight extremism. However, we can find some common points with America in this regard.
Having gotten into such a complicated situation, Russia is swinging between Europe and America. Russia made its choice regarding Iraq, but it proved to be the wrong one. It has been humiliated, together with Germany and France, which lost their positions in Iraq. However, Russia did not form a serious coalition with Germany and France. After its initial assertive outcry, Russia wavered and started to listen to America. But the Russian-French-German alliance could have become a prototype of a group of countries that do not approve of all US actions, capable of assuming the role of counterweight in international affairs.
(Translated by Kirill Frolov)