The State of Russian Foreign Policy and U.S. Policy Toward Russia

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The State of Russian Foreign Policy and U.S. Policy Toward Russia

April 6, 1998 39 min read Download Report

Authors: Ariel Cohen, Mark Gage, Stephen Blank, Robert Freedman, Angela Stent, Paula Dobriansky and Stephen Sestanovich

Opening Statement
By Stephen Sestanovich

It is a pleasure for me to open today's discussion of Russian-American relations. In saying this, I should probably add that it's a pleasure that feels, at one and the same time, completely familiar and thoroughly unfamiliar. Familiar because many of us in this room have talked over and tried to interpret developments in Russia-and before that, in the Soviet Union-throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Unfamiliar because I never expected to carry forward this discussion in my current capacity.

Now, Washington being what it is, showing up in a new role is actually not quite as strange as it may seem. You and I have, after all, talked about Russian-American relations over many years in many different capacities.

Many participants in today's meeting are veterans of previous administrations. I myself first came to meetings here at Heritage as a Hill staffer, then as a member of the Reagan National Security Council, and thereafter as a colleague from sister think tanks downtown.

I can even boast of having been in the offices of The Heritage Foundation in Moscow, back when the Carnegie Center was located in the same building. We cooperated in many ways in those days. Those of you who visited either institution may recall that, the plumbing in some old Moscow office buildings being what it is, Carnegie and Heritage staffers often used to make joint expeditions to use the facilities in the Polytechnic Museum two blocks away.

There have been other changes in our discussions over the years. Until 1991, they were united by the conviction that Soviet communism was a unique source of danger-a present danger, we used to say-to us, to our friends, to supporters of freedom in other countries, to the international order, even to itself. The question for us was how best to deal with that danger.

Since 1991, we've had discussions of a different kind, united by the need to understand the opportunities created by the fall of Soviet communism. The question for us has been how to make the most of these opportunities-above all, how to do so in a way that advances American interests.

For those of us who didn't much like the old international order, the end of the Cold War has been a unique chance to start over. In Russia and, just as important, in Ukraine and the other states that were born or reborn when the USSR collapsed, we have dealt with governments possessing-for the first time-a mandate for democratic and market reform and a desire to work with us to refashion the international order.

This work involved transformations of a kind and on a scale rarely seen in history. It is often compared to the seminal policies of the late 1940s, but to my mind the changes brought on by the fall of communism have been in many ways even more fundamental.

First, there has been the opportunity to overcome the strategic nuclear standoff. This means the chance not only to pursue deep cuts in nuclear arsenals, but also to move toward the far more significant goal of putting mutual assured destruction behind us.

Second has been the job of creating a security order for Europe that truly reflects the end of its long, artificial division into two blocs. Doing this fully has meant opening key institutions to new members and mobilizing them to meet security challenges such as the war in Bosnia. It has meant negotiating massive reductions of military equipment and troops on the continent while reinforcing economic and political integration trends already underway.

Third has been the job of knitting together worlds that were isolated from each other by the bizarre political and economic structures of Soviet communism. Overcoming them has turned out to be a harsh and painful experience with a great deal at stake: Economic success can clearly affect the fate of democratic institutions and the growth of civil society.

A fourth and final task has proved central. I have in mind the importance of finding new partners (among old adversaries) for strengthening peace and security in sensitive regions such as the Persian Gulf. We have had a better chance-but also a greater need-to create alliances against the proliferation of the most dangerous military technologies.

Taken together, these challenges make up the American agenda for dealing with the post-communist world. Tackling them is perhaps the most important work of American foreign policy in this decade. And no part of it is more consequential than what I will talk about today: the unique opportunity presented to us by the fall of communism to forge a more cooperative and productive relationship with Russia.

The Clinton Administration, like the Bush Administration before it, has been determined to seize this opportunity. The President set this course five years ago and has held to it since then not because of romantic feelings toward a former adversary (although Americans are sometimes sentimental in such matters), not because of an unexamined attachment to one leader (Americans are said to make this mistake too), and not because of some starry-eyed assumption that the world of the future will be conflict-free.

To the contrary, we all recognize that the future will hold conflicts and new threats that we can only guess at now. Our conviction is that we will be able to cope with them more successfully if we can develop a cooperative relationship with Russia and the other countries of the former Soviet Union. And we aim to do so in a way that, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has put it, "encourages Russia's modern aspirations rather than accommodates its outdated fears."

These are the judgments that underlie President Clinton's policy. They will, I predict, underlie that of future Presidents as well, no matter who occupies the White House. The reason is simple: It's the policy that best serves American interests.

In 1992, it's fair to say, the wisdom of this policy seemed self-evident to most of us. In 1998, by contrast, it has become debatable. Today, Russian-American relations are subject to stricter scrutiny, and I think that's both understandable and desirable. We need to take a hard look at our assumptions-in particular, at the hope that over the long term, Russian and American interests will converge enough to permit sustained cooperation and to justify the kind of support and attention that the international community has given Russia since 1991.

Let me try to contribute in a small way to this discussion by recalling a debate from a previous administration-a debate in which I don't want to say I was wrong, but I will admit that in some ways I may not have understood what was happening as well as my boss at that time, Ronald Reagan.

When I worked at the White House in the mid-1980s, my colleagues and I on the NSC staff were sometimes puzzled by the President's utter certitude that he knew where Mikhail Gorbachev was headed. And the explanation we got back when we raised this question also puzzled us: The President, it seems, had come to the conclusion, from his very first meetings with Gorbachev at Geneva and Reykjavik, that the General Secretary of the CPSU no longer believed in Marxism-Leninism. Now, did we understand why the President was so confident?

To me and to others working on Soviet affairs, this answer was not immediately satisfying, and maybe even a little naive. Surely the President could see that the Soviet leaders, no matter what their ideological views, might continue to define their national interests in ways that conflicted with ours? Well, of course he did. And that's why, whenever they did (Afghanistan was what I worked on), our policy was as tough as it had always been.

But Ronald Reagan's intuition was that something bigger was happening: that if the Cold War had really lost its ideological roots, it would necessarily wither-and not least because the Soviet system itself could not long survive the collapse of the beliefs that were supposed to justify it.

Looking back, I think one would have to acknowledge that, from an old President to his pseudo-worldly young aides, so convinced of the permanence of national interests, this was a pretty good answer. What some of us at first took for sentimentality or woolly-mindedness turned out to be the true realism.

Now, I have already said-and I'm not the first to say it-that the end of ideological conflict is not the end of conflict as such. The 1990s have already been far too bloody and tumultuous for us to indulge that hope. But if a post-ideological world isn't free of conflict, what kind of conflict will it be? When we look at Russian-American relations, should we expect-as my NSC colleagues and I counseled President Reagan when we analyzed Soviet policy-an inevitable clash of national interests?

This is a very common forecast. I read it all the time, and I'm quite sure it will be voiced around the table here today. It certainly captures one crucial element of our relations with Russia: National interests will be the foundation of both countries' foreign policies. But that is only to state the obvious. The hard question is whether these interests are bound to produce conflict. Answering that question is not quite so easy as deducing conflict from a fundamental ideological clash, for national interests are not holy writ, they are not dogma, they are not a matter of divine revelation. They are a matter of choice. They are the result of a political process. They change.

Sometimes, as people who used to be trapped behind the Iron Curtain found, they change in the most radical ways.

To my mind, there is no more important prerequisite for understanding how Russia will define its place in the world than recognizing that the idea of national interests is an open-ended one. In a country that has, in the course of the past decade, seen all the institutions of its national life turned upside down, the process of coming up with a workable definition of national interests may be a slow one. For it is inseparable from other transformations that are underway: the consolidation of new political institutions, the emergence of a new economy, the search for national identity, and the experience of dealing with new neighbors that are themselves consolidating their statehood and undergoing major upheavals. Russia has to develop a new consensus on where its interests lie in a world that has changed dramatically almost overnight.

Amid such changes, who can claim that national interests will be a constant? What we see instead is an open-ended process of defining those interests. New approaches will be tried out and discarded; others will hold. Some of these will create concerns and frictions with Russia's friends and neighbors; others will begin to identify common ground. I'll turn to some of our concerns in a minute, but first a word about the role we play in the way Russia defines its interests.

The United States cannot make Russia's choices for it. Only the Russian people can make choices that will last. But we need to understand what the choices are. As President Bill Clinton has said, Russia has "a chance to show that a great power can promote patriotism without expansionism; that a great power can promote national pride without national prejudice."

For some, the historic scale of this choice-and the likelihood that we will not know for years how much progress we have made-means that we should mute our differences with Russia when they arise. Others say that our differences will be insurmountable. The Clinton Administration's approach is different. Our job is to pursue American national interests, to defend our principles, and-anyone who works for Madeleine Albright learns this right away-to tell it like it is. And telling it like it is means, among other things, recognizing how important it is to build a seat at the table for post-communist democracies, including Russia, that are prepared to take a full and responsible part in resolving international problems.

To give you an idea of where this work stands, let me turn back to the four post-Cold War challenges I described earlier.

Of all the problems we want to address in Russian-American relations, none is more important than the future of nuclear weapons. And none makes the slow sorting out of Russian national interests more visible. After all, the Russian Duma has been debating the merits of the START II Treaty for five whole years now. Clearly some deputies consider a treaty with the United States providing for deep cuts in strategic nuclear forces as, ipso facto, contrary to Russia's interests.

Last year, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin sought to break this logjam by making clear what kind of START III agreement would be possible once START II is ratified. The target they agreed on-2,000 to 2,500 strategic weapons on each side-would represent a cut of approximately 80 percent from the highest levels of the Cold War.

They also agreed that these negotiations must improve transparency of our nuclear inventories and assure the irreversibility of warhead destruction.

It is this Administration's judgment that the ABM Treaty has made possible reaching agreement on deeper strategic nuclear weapons reductions; and, in this spirit, last September Secretary Albright signed agreements demarcating the ABM Treaty and our ongoing work on theater-missile defense (TMD). I should note that these agreements fully protect all of our TMD programs and that they will move forward as planned. These agreements will be submitted, along with the START II Protocol, for Senate advice and consent after Russian ratification of START II.

In the meantime, we will continue to pool our efforts with the Russians to fight nuclear smuggling and proliferation, to eliminate excess plutonium, and to enhance the security of Russia's nuclear stockpile.

The second challenge I mentioned was European security. No issue has stimulated more heated assessments of the irreconcilability between U.S. and Russian interests than this one. As everyone knows, four years ago the U.S. launched the process of expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Russia didn't like it. It doesn't like it now. And its leaders have said they will never like it. Yet both sides said their goal was a secure and integrated Europe. In 1997, the most important question for Russian-American relations was: Did that common goal mean anything?

In 1998, I think it's clear that the answer is yes. The U.S. Senate is about to consider the membership of three new NATO members. The NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council-created by the NATO-Russian Founding Act-is up and running. We have begun the process of adapting the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) treaty to Europe's new security realities. And American soldiers are serving shoulder-to-shoulder with Russian troops in Bosnia.

This record gives real meaning to the hope that Secretary Albright expressed to Yevgeny Primakov last fall, "that Russia will come to know the real NATO for what it is: as neither a threat to Russia nor the answer to Russia's most pressing dilemmas, but simply as an institution that can help Russia become more integrated with the European mainstream."

I should add that Russia is not the only post-Soviet state that we think should play a larger role in European security. This Administration has advocated greater cooperation between NATO and Ukraine in particular. And it seems to us no accident that the creation of new institutional ties between NATO and both Russia and Ukraine has gone along with the improvement of ties between them.

Similar changes are visible in Russia's relations with other neighbors. In two key conflict zones in the Caucasus-Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia-Russia has begun to work in tandem with international organizations in the pursuit of negotiated settlements.

Let me turn to economic issues. Last year, the Russian government brought inflation down to record lows and kept the ruble stable. With U.S. support, the international financial institutions provided necessary assistance-linked, of course, to structural reforms and sound fiscal policy. The Russian stock market enjoyed a surge of Western portfolio investment.

This should be the moment at which common economic interests become a major factor in Russian-American relations. To make that happen, Russia still needs to build the legislative framework and government machinery to improve the investment climate, to revitalize tax collection, to tackle crime and corruption, to protect private investors, to spur cooperation in the energy sector (both in Russia itself and in the Caspian region), and to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). We are working hard in a number of ways, including through innovative assistance programs under our Partnership for Freedom, to address many of these problems, each of which deserves a long discussion. Instead, let me state a one-sentence bottom line: Failure to resolve them will come at a heavy price in Russian national interests.

The question before us is whether Russian interests inevitably clash with our own. The issues that I have described so far offer cases of disagreement-sometimes major disagreements. But they also provide powerful evidence of common interests and of our ability to find common solutions. Whatever one's view of this matter, there is no doubt that the biggest challenge we face, and the greatest difficulty in finding common solutions, is in the Persian Gulf. I have in mind troubling developments in Russia's relations with Iran and our occasional differences on Iraq.

In the Iran case, we have a real problem on our hands. I'll be very blunt: Iran is taking advantage of Russia's economic woes and its large reservoir of defense technology and scientific talent to accelerate development of an indigenous ballistic missile capability. Russian authorities understand that Iran's activities could have grave consequences for stability throughout the Middle East and that Iran's ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems pose a direct security threat to Russia itself. President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, and Foreign Minister Primakov have repeatedly told us that they oppose the transfer of missile technology to Iran.

In response, we have launched an intensive dialogue on how to choke off Russian entities' cooperation with Iran's missile program. This is not a dialogue in the usual sense. What is involved is not just sharing information about the problem. Its aim is to identify concrete steps toward effective enforcement and monitoring. We have some progress to show, but a lot more hard work will be needed before we can say that the problem is on the way to being solved.

We also have concerns about potential Russian investments in Iran's energy sector. Energy investment in Iran, after all, only serves to strengthen one of Russia's most formidable regional competitors.

In Iraq, Russia and the U.S. agree on the need to uncover and end Saddam Hussein's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs. We also agree that Saddam must comply fully with all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including full cooperation with UNSCOM. But there have been differences between us when it comes to defining and achieving full compliance.

In October, after much intensive consultation between us and in the U.N. Security Council, the Russians played a role in bringing Saddam back into compliance. Iraq's attempt on Tuesday to exclude American and British inspection team members is the latest step in a long-standing Iraqi campaign to ignore, frustrate, and deceive the international community about Iraq's enormous programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. What I have said about other issues applies here: The test of whether our interests converge or clash lies in whether we can find common ground on the big problems, one at a time.

Let me close with a word about bipartisanship. To make the most of the opportunities created by the end of the Cold War, our strategy toward Russia-as much as any other element of our foreign policy-needs bipartisan support and needs public understanding. At the State Department, I am lucky to have a boss who is more committed to real bipartisanship and to active participation in public debate than any Secretary of State I can remember. No one who works for her is likely to have the kind of success she has had in these areas. But she has told us it's our job to try.

-Stephen Sestanovich is the Ambassador at Large and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State on the New Independent States, U.S. Department of State.

American-Russian Relations: An Assessment
By Paula J. Dobriansky

In assessing the current American-Russian relationship, there are three areas in which, in my opinion, the Administration has not undertaken sufficient or appropriate action. The first two concern our relations with Russia and include the following: failure to combat or even counter rampant anti-Americanism emanating from Russia and the inability to develop active, appropriate relationships with emerging Russian democratic leaders. On the domestic front, the Administration also conspicuously proved unable to forge a bipartisan public consensus on the strategic importance of our relationship with Russia and the need to sustain targeted U.S. democratic assistance.

Let's consider each of these in turn.

Combating Anti-Americanism

Even a casual perusal of the Russian media evidences a profoundly disturbing phenomenon: Russian commentators, of whatever stripe, are hostile to American goals and policies. This criticism is not limited only to the hard-line, pro-communist newspapers. Both the reformist as well as the pro-government newspapers and magazines have been doing the same thing.

Significantly, the criticism is broad in nature. In addition, to complaining about Washington's policies on NATO enlargement, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the former Yugoslavia, etc., the Russian commentators routinely grouse about the unipolar nature of the existing international system, cite the evils of American hegemonism, and muse about the need to create offsetting power centers such as an anti-American alliance comprised of such powers as Russia, Germany, France, China, and Japan.

Most Administration officials have ignored this problem, some remembering that the Soviet newspapers were also full of such anti-American diatribes and some thinking that such rhetoric does not really matter. Others have blamed our actions for this backlash. For example, it was reported in The Washington Times that in early January, U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins blamed U.S. congressional efforts to influence Russian policy for fostering an anti-American backlash.

This is wrong. The commentaries should not be ignored-they do matter, and they are not prompted by congressional actions. While Russia is evolving along its democratic path, public opinion-especially elite opinion-matters a great deal. In fact, I believe that it can be said that there has never been a time in our bilateral relations when public diplomacy mattered more. The fact that most Russian opinion-makers appear to hate the current international arrangements and view the U.S. as Russia's enemy is very unsettling and has long-term negative implications for Russia's foreign policy.

The Administration needs to deal effectively with this problem. They need not only to address these allegations, but in some cases to counter and protest, especially when statements are made officially by the Russian government. We now have access in Russia to newspapers, radio, TV, and academic audiences and institutions. Consequently, we should use these outlets to rebut and combat Moscow's anti-Americanism and make cogent presentations through op-eds, speeches, and TV and radio appearances. I believe that, over time, convincing arguments made by American officials could make a difference.

Developing Relations with Russia's Emerging Democratic Leaders

While some progress in this area has been made, we have not taken full advantage of numerous opportunities to bolster the growth and institutionalization of democracy in Russia and to forge better ties with Russia's democratic leaders. For example, our routine contacts and assistance have been limited to a relatively small number of senior Moscow-based officials. Not enough has been done at the local and regional level, despite numerous opportunities to forge strong ties between American local and state governments and their Russian counterparts. The federal government can and should be a catalyst for such efforts.

Meanwhile, U.S. assistance programs to Russia, including those that have been properly targeted to assist in democratization and economic reform efforts, have been plagued by international bureaucratic warfare, poor coordination, and mismanagement. While some of the horror stories about the misuse of American aid and resources being wasted may be exaggerated, it is nevertheless highly significant that almost all of the Russian political leaders, across the entire political spectrum, are highly critical about the way in which American aid is being delivered. This stands in notable contrast with the way in which the Marshall Plan was perceived by its recipients.

Forging Bipartisan Public Consensus in the United States

Our relationship with Russia matters. The Administration has not forged a bipartisan public consensus about the strategic importance of the U.S.-Russia relationship and the need to provide sustained targeted assistance, thereby holding hostage to the vicissitudes of executive-congressional relations a variety of needed programs.

First, we need to articulate an intellectually compelling explanation of the strategic importance of our relations. Russia remains a key player in Europe and, as its economy and political stability improve, is likely to become even more influential. Also, Russia's democratic path matters to us and to the future of Europe. What happens there will ultimately have political, economic, and security consequences for its neighbors and us. Consequently, what ought to be done now is to lay a solid foundation for a constructive relationship with Russia for decades to come.

Another point that I believe would resonate with the American public is that, given its nuclear arsenal, Russia remains the only military power capable of inflicting devastation on the American homeland.

Second, what is also needed is a realistic articulation of what levels of cooperation between Russia and the United States on various issues are conceivable, avoiding the two commonly seen extremes: undue euphoria about the Russian-American partnership and the knee-jerk pessimism which ascribes the worst possible motives to every Moscow move or action.

What can be done? Russia-related themes, as defined above, should be more prominently featured in a variety of Administration statements, ranging from the State of the Union to major foreign policy speeches. Secretary Albright has already been making various addresses across the United States. These have been well-received and are helpful in better understanding current U.S. policy. However, I would recommend that the Administration devise a public diplomacy strategy with the goal of communicating to the American public our policy goals.

-Paula J. Dobriansky is the Vice President and Washington Director, as well as the Kennan Fellow for Russia, at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Russian Foreign Policy Today: The Primakov Challenge

Reflections on Russia and NATO Enlargement
By Stephen Blank

As NATO's enlargement is the crucial foreign policy issue facing Congress in 1998, it arouses much debate. Many attacks on enlargement focus on its impact upon Russia. Russia calls enlargement an unacceptable threat to its national security and vital interests and a vote of no confidence in its democratic prospects and acceptance of the status quo.1 NATO enlargement also allegedly isolates Russia from Europe's most vital security system, divides Europe against Russia, disregards Russia's legitimate and vital interests, illustrates the West's unconcern for Russia and refusal to make Russia an equal partner with the United States and the West, and constitutes an existential potential threat given its overwhelming military superiority.

But there has been virtually no formal analysis of Russia's policy and goals toward Europe. U.S. official and unofficial assessments of Russian policy have ignored Moscow's proposals on European security as not meriting any sustained analysis.

Although NATO enlargement has united all of Russia's feuding elites against it, one searches in vain for the Administration's strategic analysis of Russian policy. All we hear is the reformer-reactionary dichotomy, falsely invoking President Boris Yeltsin as a great democrat and asserting that Russia remains our democratic partner.

Actually, as Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich wrote before his confirmation, "On balance, there have been few signs that U.S. policy is shaped by calculations of any kind about Russian power-present or future, global or regional, nuclear or conventional."2 He further writes that, while Warsaw and Prague openly distrust Moscow, Washington acted out of motives having little connection with Russian policy, democratization, restraint of Germany, concern for NATO's future, and prevention of future Bosnias.3

This essay presents such an analysis of Russia's NATO policy, mainly through the words of Russian leaders and leading political analysts. However, our analysis suggests that enlargement is, sadly, a richly deserved vote of no confidence.

Russian Policy in Europe

Russia's charge that enlargement in itself constitutes a permanent danger that can evolve into a future threat reflects the consistent militarization of Russian strategic thinking and the ubiquitous resort to militarized worst-case scenarios in defense and policy planning.

Russian military thinking has retained the Soviet "us vs. them" approach and the most sterile forms of correlation-of-forces theory.4 This militarized view of world politics and defense requirements inhibits Russia's desperately needed military reform. Russia still sees security mainly in military and zero-sum game terms where Russia must be an equal and opposing pole of the United States.5 Accordingly, Russia did not lose the Cold War and remains a great global power by virtue of its potential. Hence, it deserves a seat at all "presidium tables" of world politics, despite its manifold weaknesses.6 Moreover, Moscow holds that the West owes it something.

This combined militarized and entitlement mentality is not confined to the armed forces, nor do all military men promote it. But it is linked to and aggravates the fundamental structural defects of Russian policy by inhibiting a reconsideration of security policy and domestic reform. Adherents of this outlook demand equality with the United States in all political issues and great-power preferences and compensations equal to those of the United States.7

Russian threat assessments and military procurements from 1991-1997 stressed the threat of a war with the United States and its allies even as Russia demanded equality with the United States.8 Likewise, the 1997 national security blueprint perceives threats everywhere.9 The armed forces naturally tried to retain the maximum number of traditional strategic roles and missions, giving only lip service to new realities.

Alexei Arbatov noted that Russian armed forces' military requirements were still driven by contingency planning for major war with the United States, its NATO allies, or Japan. Therefore, he charged that "nothing has really changed in the fundamental military approaches to contingency planning." The military's interest in self-preservation, not threat analysis determining the true needs of the armed forces, drove its threat assessment, force structure, and deployment policy.10

Recent threat assessments openly accuse NATO of planning military aggression against Russia through enlargement. For example,

A number of political scientists are of the opinion that there can be seen in relations between the West [note: not just the United States, but the West as a whole] a "slow creeping into a semblance of standoff which threatens serious losses both for international security and security of individual countries, and for Russia." It is caused by a whole number of factors. First, there is the apparent incompatibility of Russia's and the United States' current potentialities on the world scene which makes the prospects of their relations on a parity basis illusory [and] for which reason Russia is hardly going to settle for the role of junior partner.11

If deterrence fails, Moscow must protect "sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the other permanent vital interests of the country." However, pursuit of a security policy based on rivalry and equality with the United States and the West that states, "As before, the most important is readiness to carry out the tasks of deterrence on all azimuths" must presage another disaster for Russia.12

German defense analyst Reiner Huber observed that Russian models of offense and defense in Europe are based on frankly paranoid calculations that Russia, to feel secure in Europe, requires a potential successful defense of at least 90 percent if NATO attacks in a purely conventional war-and this excludes Russia's nuclear retaliatory capability.13 Huber rightly observes that

This underscores the deep mistrust still prevailing in Russia vis-a-vis NATO and the United States. For example, if we were to assume that the success of defense is equivalent to the failure of aggression, the defense sufficiency principle suggests that the Russians believe NATO will attack even if the chances of success were only about 10 percent. Obviously NATO and the United States are perceived as being quite reckless.14

Yet the economic, war-planning, and political requirements that flow from this paranoia and demand for absolute security at everyone else's expense are plainly unsustainable. Efforts to obtain security on this basis will destroy the foundations of Russian military and economic power. Obviously, this discrepancy between strategic ends and means could lead to a disaster that could engulf all of Eurasia.

From the Military to the Political in Russian Policy

The failure to demilitarize the political process and the environment within which security policy is formulated and executed has had a decisive and lasting significance for foreign policy. Perhaps the deepest source of Russian objections to NATO enlargement and NATO's superior power is that enlargement thwarts Russia's and other states' dream of a unilateral hegemony in Europe. Moscow's imperial project reflects and is bound up with a revival of traditional modes of thinking and acting in foreign policy that graphically illuminates the failure to make or consummate a revolutionary break with the past. And Europe has duly noted that failure.

Sensitive Russian observers like Vladimir Lukin and Alexei Arbatov know and state that a profound connection exists between the extent of Russia's stabilization and democratization and the fervor for NATO expansion.15 To the extent that the former fails, the latter grows, as has happened since 1993. And the revival of the militarized tradition in security policy betokens the failure to break through to a truly democratic, non-imperial ethos.

Nowhere is this more visible than in the failure to institute effective civilian, democratic controls over the armed forces. As a result of this failure, during the crucial years of 1992-1994 Russia undid Moldova's integrity, launched coups in Azerbaijan, dismembered Georgia and allowed Abkhazia to break away, transferred billions of dollars to Armenia in violation of its own Tashkent Collective Security treaty with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), invaded Chechnya despite signing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declarations prohibiting such activities five days earlier, failed to democratize control over the military, and waged intermittent economic warfare against the CIS's other members, especially in energy policy. The absence of control over the military and the willingness to defy Europe in pursuit of diminished sovereignty for the CIS bespeak Russia's failed democratic transition.

In short, Russia demands in military terms a sphere of influence, mainly in the guise of peace operations (though the Russian form of such operations hardly resembles Western concepts), and resists the legitimacy of effective and independent involvement of European security organizations in the CIS.16

The absence of effective civilian control and the quest for a privileged sphere and status go to the heart of the political issues connected with NATO enlargement. They set Russia apart from all of NATO's current and aspiring members because Russia's policies negate democracy as an important factor in international affairs. The expansion of a security community of peace based on mutual interests and democratic values remains a cornerstone of Western foreign policy because democracy among NATO's members and NATO's integrated political-military structure restrain members' and non-members' potential unilateralism in security policy.

NATO presents this internal harmony of interests among its members because it has formed a true security community where war among the members and purely unilateral national security policies are inconceivable. NATO's integrated military-political structure subjects current and future members to a rigorous international system of civilian democratic control concerning the use of armed forces at home and abroad.17

NATO's 1995 Study on Enlargement buttressed this democratic form of control by demanding it as a precondition of membership, and the OSCE's 1994 Code of Conduct also outlined a politically binding European agenda for such controls. NATO here staked its claim to democratize and internationalize controls over governments' defense and security policies.18 Everyone undergoes a legitimate democratic process of mutual restraint and thereby becomes more secure. By flaunting its defiance of those principles, Russia excludes or isolates itself from that community and forces all of its neighbors and interested partners to retain a hedge against its recidivism.

Moscow's failure to maximize its participation in the Partnership for Peace (PFP) process and learn NATO's modus operandi in a deep and long-lasting way symbolizes and signifies its attachment to an unbridled military unilateralism and to a deliberate, even willful refusal to accept NATO's true defensive character. Much Russian writing on NATO irresponsibly and willfully distorts what NATO is all about, as well as its post-Cold War record of disarmament and political-military transformation, even though some officers fully understand the reality.19 As three Russian military officers write, NATO is

Effectively the sole organization capable of generalizing international peacekeeping experience gathered by other countries. Use of its structures enables it to operate anonymously and to avoid the risk of awakening in states that are parties to conflicts fears regarding an upsurge in expansionist sentiments in one influential member of the international community or another.20

Even analysts like Sergei Karaganov conceded that Yugoslavia's wars and the vacuum created thereby are legitimate reasons to expand NATO.21

Russia's demands for a privileged sphere of influence in its own "backyard" is unacceptable. This sphere cannot be maintained except through war and Russia's own ruination, because the CIS members will not accept what is clearly an unenforceable and illegitimate hegemony. Thus, Europe has no option but to unite against Russia's exorbitant claims. Hence, Russian moves to integrate the CIS in economics, politics, culture, and defense from above invariably weaken Eurasian security and reinforce anti-democratic tendencies and the structural militarization of Russian policies and institutions. An imperial restoration is the single greatest threat to peace in Europe and Russia because Russia cannot afford that temptation, though it still chases after it. As former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev noted, weakening NATO serves only those who wish for empire and autocracy.22

Finally, the notion that Russia is a status quo partner which opposes NATO due to a merely psychological atavism that therapy by inclusion in the new Permanent Joint Council with NATO will mollify is not well-founded either. Russia is neither a stable nor a satisfied power. In September 1996, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov told the OSCE that

Today, the balance of forces resulting from the confrontation of the two blocs no longer exists, but the Helsinki agreements are not being fully applied. After the end of the Cold War certain countries in Europe-the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia-have disintegrated. A number of new states were formed in this space, but their borders are neither fixed nor guaranteed by the Helsinki agreements. Under the circumstances, there is a need for the establishment of a new system of security.23

Surely this revisionism alone suffices to alarm every Russian neighbor and justify their search for NATO membership, as well as NATO's own decision to enlarge itself. Yet while Moscow cannot afford this policy of neo-imperial reintegration, it persists in it. One reason for persisting in this folly is to prevent disaffected groups from seceding from Russia, a classic 19th century imperialistic rationale.24

Since Moscow still harbors neo-imperial and hegemonic goals in the CIS and vis-à-vis its neighbors, NATO's enlargement rules out an imperial or hegemonic restoration and extends the indivisible trans-Atlantic security community. This explains both Central European support for it and Russian opposition. Russia fears that NATO may act unilaterally against even Russia's vital interests (for example, the Balkans or the CIS). Therefore, two vital and traditional goals-obtaining a prior veto over NATO's activities and a free hand in the CIS-have dominated Russian policy.

Lying at the source of this policy is the ingrained belief in Russian Derzhavnost': the mystique of great power and the ideological penumbra surrounding this mystique. Russia, a state "foredoomed" to being a great power, allegedly cannot have security without hegemony and other states' lack of that security. Otherwise, it might then count for nothing or fall apart altogether. And hegemony is objectively needed because these new states cannot govern themselves and will then inevitably become a threat to Russia or an outpost of hostile, mainly Western powers. They are, a priori, hostile to Russia because that is the nature of international politics, which revolves around Russia's place in the world. This viewpoint extends the Soviet viewpoint of ingrained bloc hostility and Russocentrism-the foundation stones of Soviet foreign policy.25

Much Russian policy follows these precepts. President Boris Yeltsin and his officials still see NATO as an adversary. The new "patriotic consensus" clearly has rallied around a hard-boiled interpretation of international affairs that sees the West and Atlanticism as constituting a threat to Russia and a unique Russian or third way in world politics. Thus, anti-Americanism seems to dominate the current discourse in Moscow. In line with this mentality, despite the supposed absence of military threats, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev recently claimed that NATO's enlargement was the greatest threat facing Russia.26 And Primakov states that Russia opposes NATO enlargement in principle, despite whatever arguments are made for it.27

Russia's Agenda

Because the mystique of Derzhavnost' befogs its vision, Moscow pursues policies it cannot sustain and forfeits opportunities to enhance its position in Europe. Russia has shunned a real dialogue with Central and Eastern Europe on regional security.28 Instead, Russia steadfastly argues for a great-power deal and regional hegemony, cutting out the smaller states, and acts accordingly-exactly what it rails about NATO doing to it.29

Although Russia cannot have a free hand in the CIS and restraints on NATO's enlargement, it seeks an undeserved great-power status in Europe but no responsibility for creating a durable European order. As Sergei Rogov, the influential director of the USA-Canada Institute (ISKAN) and advisor to the government, has written,

First of all, Moscow should seek to preserve the special character of Russian-American relations. Washington should recognize the exceptional status of the Russian Federation in the formation of a new system of international relations, a role different from that which Germany, Japan, or China or any other center of power plays in the global arena.30

Elsewhere, Rogov has written that "The Russian Federation is unwilling to consent to bear the geopolitical burden of the defeat of the Soviet Union in the cold war or to be reconciled with an unequal position in the new European order."31

This demand for an exceptional status fully conforms to the mystique of Derzhavnost'. From a government that is essentially a ward of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and which lost the Cold War, these demands are not only undeserved, unacceptable to Europe, and fantastic, but worse, are also unrealizable. As Talley-rand would have said, it is worse than a crime; it is a blunder.

Policy is now based on the premise that Russia must be seen as a great power equal to the United States based on its potential, not its real power, which is steadily declining both absolutely and relatively.32 In fact, Russia, since enlargement first became an issue in 1993, has demanded an unequal role in European security.

That Russian power in all these areas is declining or becoming more irrelevant to the modern world while the government dithers and becomes less relevant to international issues eludes virtually all those involved in foreign policy. Russian invocations of multipolarity serve more to gain status or inhibit solutions than to assume responsibility or offer a positive agenda for multilateral action abroad.33 And, obviously, in this relationship the security interests of smaller states will be an afterthought. As Yeltsin wrote to the major European governments and the United States in 1993,

On the whole, we are of the opinion that the relations between our country and NATO should be several degrees warmer than the relations between the alliance and Eastern Europe. The rapprochement between NATO and Russia, including the direct cooperation in advancing peace, could progress at much quicker pace. It would be possible to include the East Europeans in this process.34

Tragically, Russia still pursues objectives and policies in Europe that its power does not merit, that are unsustainable, and which ultimately endanger its own security.

Russia seeks equality with the United States at the expense of all other states, an exclusive unchallenged sphere in the CIS, and the demilitarization of Central and Eastern Europe so that the great powers alone could later revise their status. It aspires to revise regional borders and still seeks to assign the Central and East European states, not to mention the CIS, a diminished sovereignty and legitimacy.

While it may not be politic to ask this question publicly, analysts and policymakers should at least ponder it in private: Given these official outlooks and goals, is suspending NATO enlargement lest Russia be upset truly in America's, Europe's, or even Russia's true interests?

Does a state with such policies deserve a vote of confidence?

-Stephen Blank is the MacArthur Professor of Research at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.35

Primakov and the Middle East
By Robert O. Freedman

When he became Russia's foreign minister in January 1996, Yevgeny Primakov, an old Soviet Middle East specialist, was expected to put his personal imprint on Russian policy toward the Middle East, as well as do a better job in coordinating Russian foreign policy than his predecessor, Andrei Kozyrev, had done. After two years in office, it has become clear that Primakov has encountered many of the same problems of coordination Kozyrev faced, and his policy in the Middle East has closely resembled that of his predecessor,36 with the exception of Russian policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, which has acquired a special flavor under Primakov.

To understand contemporary Russian foreign policy, it is first necessary to analyze the various elite factions that influence Russian foreign policy-making-factions that neither Kozyrev nor Primakov has been able to control. The first element to take into consideration is the Russian legislature, particularly the lower house, or Duma. Within the Duma are three major factions:

  • The "Atlanticists," who have supported a pro-American foreign policy (except on the issue of NATO expansion), as well as rapid economic reform and a policy of cooperation with the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union (FSU);

  • The "Eurasianists," who advocate a balanced Russian foreign policy (east, west, and south) and a position of superiority vis-à-vis the states of the FSU as well as slower economic reform; and

  • The grouping on the right of Russia's political spectrum of ultra-nationalists and old-line communists who, although they disagree on economic policy, are strongly anti-American and advocate a position of domination over the states of the FSU.

During the period that Kozyrev was Russian foreign minister, the Duma moved further and further to the right. Indeed, Primakov, known for his anti-American policies, was appointed foreign minister in January 1996 in large part as Yeltsin's reaction to the sharply rightward turn of the Duma after the December 1995 elections. In many ways, Primakov, who opposes U.S. hegemony in the world and advocates a major role for Russia in world affairs, became Yeltsin's ambassador to the Duma, where he is well-liked. Nonetheless, Yeltsin still had to contend with a Duma where the balance of power had tipped toward the hard-line factions, and this clearly affected his foreign policy.

Within the executive branch of the Russian government, by the time Primakov had become foreign minister, there were a number of quasi-independent actors. In addition to the Foreign Ministry, there were:

  • The energy companies, especially Lukoil and Gazprom, which were closely linked to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and which openly contradicted Kozyrev's policy on developing Caspian Sea oil;37

  • Business magnates such as Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Potanin, who have been in and out of government (Berezovsky served as deputy secretary of Russia's National Security Council from October 1996 to November 1997);

  • The "Reformers," such as Boris Nemtzov and Anatoly Chubais, who entered the government in March 1997 and were particularly influential in Russian policy toward the FSU (they succeeded in watering down the Primakov-promoted Russian-Belarus unification plan) until their weakening in the fall of 1997;

  • Rosvooruzheniye, the Russian arms sales agency, which seemed ready to sell arms to anybody;

  • The Ministry of Defense, which was initially very active in Russian policy toward Transcaucasia and Tajikistan but has been weakened over the last few years because of the rapid changeover of defense ministers;

  • The Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations; and

  • The Ministry of Atomic Energy.

To achieve a modicum of cohesion in Russian foreign policy, it is necessary for Primakov, as it was for Kozyrev, to line up as many as possible of these quasi-independent actors, as well as the Duma, in favor of a particular policy. In the case of Russian policy toward Iran and Iraq, both Kozyrev and Primakov achieved a modicum of cohesion; in the case of Russian policy toward Turkey, the contradictions that existed during Kozyrev's era have been exacerbated under Primakov; and finally, in the case of Russian-Israeli relations, the once warm diplomatic relations of the Kozyrev era have become badly strained under Primakov, although cultural, economic, and even military cooperation has increased.

Finally, when he took office, Primakov had to face the fact that Russia, which was losing its war in Chechnya, was a very weak state and he was conducting foreign policy from a very weak base.

Russia and Iraq

Russian policy toward Iraq had started to shift away from strong support of the U.S. position as early as January 1993 when Yeltsin, under fire from nationalists and communists in the Duma, moved from a policy of actively supporting the anti-Iraqi embargo to criticizing the renewed U.S. bombing of Iraq. By 1994, the Russian government began to call for the lifting of sanctions, although Yeltsin was unwilling to do so unilaterally for fear of destroying the U.S.-Russian relationship, despite the fact that the Duma regularly voted for the lifting of sanctions. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz became a visitor to Moscow even before Primakov took office, and Kozyrev sought to defuse a major crisis precipitated by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1994 (albeit without success), much as Primakov was to try to do in 1997 and 1998.

By the time Primakov became Russia's foreign minister, it was clear that Yeltsin had three major interests in developing Russia's relationship with Iraq. First, through international diplomatic activity, to demonstrate both to the world and to a hostile Duma that Russia was still an important factor in the world, despite its weakened condition, and was both willing and able to oppose the U.S. Indeed, as Andrei Piontkowski of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow stated during the 1997 Iraqi crisis, "For 30 years we were a superpower equal to the United States. Now the political elite is in a difficult period, feeling diminished, and compensates at least by standing up to the U.S. on minor issues."38

The second interest Yeltsin's Russia has in Iraq is in regaining the $7 billion which Iraq owes to Russia, something that cannot be achieved until sanctions against Iraq are lifted. The third interest in Iraq is in acquiring contracts for Russian factories, oil and gas companies, although the actual activities of these companies also cannot begin until sanctions are lifted.

To spur the Russians to greater efforts to lift the sanctions, Saddam Hussein has cleverly dangled major contracts before influential Russian companies, such as Lukoil, which was part of a multibillion-dollar agreement to develop the West Kurna oil field. The deal, reminiscent of the oil concessions when Iraq was a colony of Britain, enabled Lukoil to keep 75 percent of the profit and also freed the company from paying Iraqi taxes.39 Given the nature of this "sweetheart deal," Lukoil has become a major factor in the "Iraqi lobby," pushing for the lifting of sanctions. In addition, even before sanctions are lifted, Russia had become the major purchaser of Iraqi oil under the UN-approved oil-for-food agreement, and committed itself to purchasing 36.7 million barrels in 1997.40

Given these interests, Primakov's behavior in the October-November 1997 Iraqi crisis is perfectly understandable. Following the expulsion of U.S. weapons inspectors and the departure of the other inspectors, Primakov, with dramatic flair, called U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright back from her visit to India; met with her and other members of the U.N. Security Council at 2 a.m. in Geneva, Switzerland; and got their agreement to a deal whereby all the weapons inspectors, including the Americans, were allowed to return to Iraq in return for a vague promise to work for the lifting of sanctions.

While Saddam immediately began backtracking on the agreement reached with Primakov by prohibiting inspections of his palaces and other sites where chemical and bacteriological activities were suspected, thus precipitating a new crisis several months later, for the moment at least, Primakov and Yeltsin could bask in international acclaim for averting a U.S. attack on Iraq. As Aleksei Pushkov noted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, "The denouement-perhaps a temporary one-of the latest crisis involving Iraq that was achieved by Primakov demonstrated the ability that Russia still has to influence world affairs, even in its current very weakened state."41

Yet, with all the diplomatic attention, Russia was very far from getting the sanctions lifted, although Primakov had succeeded, for the time being at least, in demonstrating that Russia was still a factor in world affairs. Should subsequent Russian diplomatic efforts fail to prevent a future U.S. attack, however, Primakov's diplomatic achievement-which in any case was made possible by U.S. willingness to make every diplomatic effort possible before an attack was made-may well pale into insignificance.

Russia and Iran

The rapid development of Russian-Iranian relations has its origins in the latter part of the Gorbachev era. After alternately supporting first Iran and then Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, by July 1987 Gorbachev had clearly tilted toward Iran.

The relationship between the two countries was solidified in June 1989 with Hashemi Rafsanjani's visit to Moscow, where a number of major agreements, including one on military cooperation, were signed. The military agreement permitted Iran to purchase highly sophisticated military aircraft from Moscow, including MiG-29s and Su-24s. At a time when its own air force had been badly eroded by the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war and by the refusal of the United States to supply spare parts, let alone new planes to replace losses in the F-14s and other aircraft which the United States had sold to the Shah's regime, the Soviet military equipment was badly needed.

Iran's military dependence on Moscow grew as a result of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Not only did the United States, Iran's primary enemy, become the primary military power in the Gulf, with defensive agreements with a number of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states-which included prepositioning arrangements for U.S. military equipment-but Saudi Arabia, Iran's most important Islamic challenger, acquired massive amounts of U.S. weaponry.


Ariel Cohen
Ariel Cohen

Director, CENRG and Senior Fellow, IAGS

Mark Gage

Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs

Stephen Blank

Senior Associate Fellow

Robert Freedman

Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs

Angela Stent

F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

Paula Dobriansky

Policy Analyst

Stephen Sestanovich

Senior Research Fellow

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