Back to the "Old Think"?
"old think" among Russia's foreign and security policy elites has
caused the country to return to a strategic posture that is both
prickly and at times anti-U.S. In military policy, despite
low-intensity radical Islamist threats from the South, arms sales
to countries that threaten international stability, including Iran
and Syria, have been on the rise.
February, Moscow conducted its largest military exercise in the
past 25 years, which culminated in intercontinental ballistic
missile firings. Though many missile strikes toward an
"unspecified" enemy failed, the exercises were a throwback to the
Cold War. So was the
surrounding propaganda: Putin announced that the maneuvers were
successful, and government TV channels reported only successful
launches. By contrast, NTV, which is owned by the Russian gas
monopoly Gazprom, also mentioned failures.
Russia's domestic policy has been marked by the
consolidation of President Putin's authoritarian rule, including
the control of all TV channels and manipulation of the news media.
In addition, there is reason to suspect that the new government
appointee at the largest Russian public opinion research
organization, known as VTsIOM, will open doors for the manipulation
of polling results. The Kremlin has intensified its manipulation of
mass media, political parties, and vital financial flows in the
fairness of the State Duma elections last December, in which
pro-Putin parties secured an absolute majority in the Duma, is
suspect as the Kremlin exercised its powerful "administrative
resources" through which it sways mass media outlets, regional
governments, the military, the police, and control over the Central
Elections Commission. The outcome of the elections led some in
Washington to call for reassessment of the whole paradigm of the
U.S.-Russian strategic partnership.
Subsequently, the Bush Administration made
an effort to smooth over relations while speaking frankly to
Moscow. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Moscow on
January 26 is evidence of those efforts.
Secretary Powell sent clear messages to
the Kremlin on issues such as withdrawal of Russian troops from
Georgia, securing the independence and territorial integrity of
Moldova and Ukraine, and U.S. concerns about backtracking on
democratic development in an op-ed published on the front page of
Izvestia's January 26 issue, writing that "Russia's democratic
system, it seems to us, has yet to find the necessary balance
between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of
power." Powell also
hailed the strength of the bilateral relationship, adding that the
two countries should continue developing relations while taking
into account their national interests. Powell's op-ed was the shot
across the bow, expressing the Bush Administration's concerns with
the direction Russia has chosen for Putin's second term.
A Russian Sphere
of Influence in the CIS?
The U.S. has expressed concerns about the emerging Russian sphere
of influence in the former Soviet Union area. Russia's attempts to
entrench its military presence from Moldova to Georgia to
Kyrgyzstan, and its efforts to impose a regional free trade zone,
all cause insecurity in the capitals of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS).
significant U.S. concern is the future of Georgia and, more
broadly, the Caucasus and CIS at large. Continuous Russian pressure
on Ukraine, Moldova, and other countries could undermine bilateral
U.S.-Russian ties. At the same time, as the U.S. focuses on the war
on terrorism, primarily in the Middle East and South Asia,
confrontation with Russia is counterproductive. Without
clarification of strategies on both sides, and without policies
constructed to pursue cooperation and avoid confrontation, Moscow
and Washington this year could find themselves--unnecessarily--on a
collision course from the Black Sea to the Pamir Mountains.
tension escalates particularly in relations with Ukraine and
Belarus, both of which are ethnically, religiously, and
linguistically close to Russia and home to millions of
Russian-speakers. Russia hampers their rapprochement with the West.
To this end, it has given backing to Alexander Lukashenko's
authoritarian regime in Belarus. In Ukraine, Moscow employs political
and economic pressure to solidify the pro-Russia forces and weaken
the pro-Western, democratic, and nationalist opposition ahead of
elections this October.
Tensions are also rampant in
Russian-Georgian ties. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili made
sincere attempts to improve relations with Russia during his
February 2004 trip to Moscow, including a suggestion of a
trans-Georgian oil pipeline to Russia. These steps were positively
received in Moscow.
Washington hopes that Russia will not
launch a massive campaign to destabilize Georgia, as Russia should
have no interest in turmoil along its southern border, in addition
to which it has no alternative candidate to lead the country.
While the U.S. plans to continue to
support the Saakashvili administration and to back completion of
the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, it is likely that internal policy
disagreements over Georgia within the Russian establishment will
continue until the summer, when a new Putin government is firmly in
place. Ideally, Washington would like to see quick progress for
reunification of Georgia, but without Moscow's support, such a
development is unlikely.
There is a risk that Russia, which during
2003 has retreated from many global commitments, after this year's
presidential elections may focus on its immediate neighborhood,
scaling up its involvement in the CIS. This may include further
acquisitions of energy, transportation, and other industrial
assets; pressures to expand a free trade area; and more military
and security cooperation under the umbrella of the CIS Mutual
U.S. Interests in Eurasia
elsewhere, the U.S. has to pursue its national interests in its
relationship with Russia and Eurasia. These interests can be
divided into two categories: "vital" and "important."
#1: The war on international terrorism.
the U.S. projects power on a global scale to fight the war on
terrorism, the attitude of regional powers, elites, and public
opinion toward cooperation in combating terrorism becomes
Objectively, the United States and Russia
are allies in fighting international terrorism. Forces linked to
al-Qaeda are financing acts of terrorism in Russia. The Chechen
conflict, which began as resistance to the Russian imperial
occupation at the end of the 18th century, has evolved into a
separatist movement for national self-determination. Stalin
subjected the Chechens to a genocidal deportation in 1944, and they
were allowed to return to their homeland only in 1956.
Radical Wahhabi Islam, a recent import
into this war, has hijacked the nationalist movement and spread to
Daghestan and other regions of the Northern Caucasus. The radical
forces aim to build an Islamic state on the doorstep of Europe
between the Black Sea and the Caspian, expanding into Tatarstan and
Bashkortostan and eventually Islamizing Russia. While Russia could
have split the Chechens by conducting talks with non-radical
separatists, so far it has chosen not to do so.
Theoretically, Russia and the U.S. should
coordinate anti-terrorist policy and work closely to derail the
economic foundation of international terrorist networks. The
intelligence communities of both countries should interact,
exchange information, and in certain cases stage joint operations
designed to eliminate terrorists. These actions would engender a
renewed partnership in combating terrorism and strengthen
confidence in bilateral relations between the two nations. Instead,
cooperation between Moscow and Washington was at its peak during
the initial phases of the war in Afghanistan and has diminished
ever since. While NATO reconnaissance flights along Russian borders
irritated the Kremlin, Moscow's anti-American posture over the Iraq
war in the U.N. similarly annoyed the White House.
shifting geopolitical priorities in the global war on terrorism are
dictating change. For example, the U.S. is planning to deploy more
troops in Romania and Bulgaria to provide power projection
capabilities into the Middle East and Central Asia. Small-scale
forward bases in the Caucasus and Central Asia are under discussion
among Pentagon planners. In the absence of a confidence-building
dialogue between the U.S. and Russia, these moves may cause an
adverse reaction in Moscow.
February 10, Putin's Chief of Staff Dmitry Medvedev had talks in
Washington with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice,
Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other officials. The CIS was
featured in the talks, along with Iraq and other global issues. In
a message to President Bush published February 11, however, Putin
tried to smooth over any disagreements:
I am convinced that it is in our common
interest to cherish the positive things that have been accumulated,
and I think by practical actions we shall be able convincingly to
show everyone that the partner foundations of our relations remain
immutable and that any speculations about a "cooling-off" between
Russia and the United States are far removed from reality. Russia
will remain a stable, reliable and predictable partner.
there are other stresses, despite Putin's words. Ongoing
Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation is a highly sensitive issue,
especially after supporters of theocratic totalitarianism rigged
parliamentary elections in February. Efforts by the International
Atomic Energy Agency to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons
may not be sufficient. Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons can
become a major security threat to the U.S. and its allies, and
threaten stability in the Persian Gulf. All these developments in
the area of terrorism and terrorist-sponsoring states should lead
Washington to recognize that partnership in this sphere might have
#2: Development of energy resources.
Since the U.S. relies heavily on imports
of foreign oil, the development of energy resources in the Caspian
Sea basin and joint exploitation of Russian oil and gas deposits
have become an important aspect of U.S.-Russian relations. However,
the two countries' interests over these resources may not always
coincide. If Moscow pursues an aggressive policy in the South
Caucasus and Central Asia, it could derail U.S. plans to establish
a reliable pipeline system in these regions. However, a policy of
cooperation would benefit both parties.
Western companies are invited to
participate in development in Russia only where difficult
geological and geographic conditions, such as deep water,
permafrost, or extreme climates, necessitate technologies that the
Russian companies lack. As long as oil prices remain high, the
Russian companies are likely to have access to credit and not to
need Western financing, even of larger projects.
prospects for U.S.-Russian energy cooperation have been endangered
by the recent withdrawal of the license previously granted to
ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco to explore and develop the oil and gas
fields of the Sakhalin-3 block, as well as by extortionate demands
from the energy ministry for a $1 billion fee to pursue the
Sakhalin-3 experience could put the future of the total $6
billion-$10 billion U.S. investment in Russian oil at risk. U.S.
Ambassador to Russia Alexander Verschbow said that this decision by
the Russian government could impede a U.S.-Russian energy
dialogue. It is
likely that, in the future, the U.S. will react more strongly to
hostile Russian actions against American companies. As Russian oil,
steel, and software companies increasingly enter the U.S. market,
they may become subject to similar hardball tactics.
situation in the natural-gas industry is even more difficult,
principally because the state-controlled Gazprom remains a
monopoly. Until that changes, U.S. access to gas fields will remain
Bush Administration has sent Moscow a clear message that America's
energy security priorities, including lowering energy dependence on
the Middle East, are among its vital interests. Russia's respect
for its American investors' access to markets, and protection of
the companies' property rights, will go a long way to improve
#3: Averting a strategic threat to Europe, East Asia, and the
present, Russia does not pose a genuine military threat to American
interests in Europe and Asia. However, it seeks at times to
complicate U.S.-European relations. Russia backed the French and
German opposition to the U.S. military action in Iraq. For a few
years, it waged a harsh but ineffective campaign against NATO
enlargement that was designed to weaken the Atlantic alliance--one
of the pillars of U.S. security.
Russia opposes the relocation of U.S.
military bases eastward. At the international security conference
in Munich, Germany, in February 2004, Defense Minister Sergei
Ivanov stated that Russia may scrap the CFE Treaty limiting
conventional weapons and troop deployments in Europe unless it is
changed to include Baltic militaries and rule out NATO forces in
the Baltic States.
the same time, Russia refuses to pull its military out of Georgia
and Moldova, even though it vowed to do so in an agreement signed
at the 1999 Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe.
Moscow's efforts to improve relations with
the European Union (EU) were rebuffed, and enlargement of the EU is
proceeding to Moscow's detriment. Russia's accession to the World
Trade Organization (WTO) has been virtually stalled due to EU
members' opposition to Russian cheap domestic energy prices, which
constitute a hidden subsidy to the Russian economy.
Schengen visa regime, which governs travel into the EU from non-EU
nations, is making travel tougher for Russians seeking to go to the
EU. This causes the Kremlin's disenchantment with Russia's
prospects in Europe and ratchets up the elite's anti-Western
attitudes. Instead of backing Russia's wish to join the WTO, the
United States could encourage Russia to move toward membership in
the Global Free Trade Association (GFTA). GFTA is a proposed global free trade
area for which any country would qualify provided it reached a
sufficiently high level of economic freedom.
#4: Protecting America, its borders, and its airspace.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles armed
with nuclear warheads are a major threat to the United States.
Russia and China are the only states potentially capable of a
massive nuclear attack against the United States. Russia's
state-of-the-art intercontinental ballistic missile, Topol-M, is
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has
pursued a buildup of strategic missile forces, including research
and development of new systems allegedly capable of defeating
U.S.-built ballistic missile defenses. Putin stated that the new
program would not be a threat to the U.S. Yet Russian military doctrine has
become increasingly offensive, clearly aimed at repelling the kind
of "air-space attack" that only the U.S. and its allies are capable
of staging. Russia's doctrine is also allowing pre-emptive use of
force, including nuclear weapons, and the development of
addition, the Russian military still has vintage ICBMs in service
that are armed with multiple, independent re-entry vehicles
(MIRVs). These are known as RS-20 "Satan" missiles As both Russia and
the U.S. are likely to abide by the START-III arms control
ceilings, the U.S. has called for the destruction of these weapons.
Recently, however, Sergei Ivanov unexpectedly made an announcement
that the Satan would remain in service until 2016. This definitely
boosts the strength of Russia's strategic nuclear forces.
challenge demands that the United States and its allies deploy a
reliable missile defense system in the near future. The emerging
missile defense system, however, would be incapable of defending
America from a massive Russian attack.
Interest #1: Stability in the post-Soviet space.
political pressure that Russia applies to its neighbors to the west
and south could impede their development along a democratic and
market-oriented model, step up social tensions, endanger
territorial disintegration, and instigate armed conflicts. The "big
brother" syndrome is ingrained in Russia's dealings with the former
Soviet Republics, and the Russian elite continues to look upon the
countries of the former Soviet space as its sphere of influence.
This leaves open an imperial option or, at least, a scenario of
border revisions in the future. Realizing that these nations are
truly independent and sovereign is difficult for Moscow.
is, in part, why Russia concentrates on its military presence in
the former Soviet space, including through CIS "peacekeeping
missions." Russian military bases and units in the Trans-Dniester
(Moldova), Georgia (Abkhazia and Adjara), Kyrgyzstan, and
Tajikistan are tools of Russia's political pressure on the
governments of these states.
Russian state is relying too much on its military presence as a
political tool in the post-Soviet space. It is also overreacting to
U.S. military deployments in the adjacent regions for the purpose
of combating international terrorism. Many in the Russian elite are
concerned that the Americans have established a permanent presence
in the region. "They [the United States] will never go away, we are
witnessing a long-term American presence in Central Asia, and
possibly, in the Caucasus," says a senior Russia expert who
speculations are broadly used by Russian nationalists to revive the
"enemy image" of the U.S. Some experts maintain, though, that
"Russia is as yet undecided: should it perceive the United States
presence on the broad sweep of the former `Soviet Motherland' as an
ally, partner, rival, or enemy."
results of the December 2003 parliamentary elections demonstrate
that nationalists such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal-Democratic
Party, Dmitry Rogozin's Motherland Party, Communists, and others
have consolidated their position in Russia's political life. They
are engendering increased xenophobia. Under the pretext of fighting
terrorism, Russian nationalist policymakers call for the
deportation of non-Slavic people, primarily Caucasus-born, from
Moscow and other large cities.
Russian nationalists are also lobbying for
"protecting Russian speakers" and the Russophone population in the
post-Soviet space. The selectivity of their complaints exposes a
deeper, more sinister agenda, however: While they protest the
"violations of Russian speakers' rights" in the Baltic nations,
they choose to disregard the infringement of these rights by the
Central Asian authoritarian regimes whose anti-democratic worldview
Interest #2: Progress of democracy abroad.
increasing authoritarian trends in Russia challenge the fundamental
U.S. mission to consolidate freedom. In 2003, democracy and the
rule of law were declining in Russia. Since 2000, all independent
television channels have been shut down under powerful
administrative pressure or taken over by the government's allies.
Radio stations and print media are also being gradually brought
under control. Self-censorship is used across the board: The
authorities "guide" journalists on what to report and what to
withhold, and are quick to clamp down on dissenters.
Moscow has stepped up its control over
regional administrations through the extra-constitutional
institution of unelected presidential envoys (four out of seven of
whom are former military or security-services generals) and through
its power to recall elected governors. This is at odds with the
basic principles of federalism and abuses the rights of
legitimately elected governors and regional legislatures.
conduct of last December's State Duma elections provoked discontent
among many Russians. Federal, regional, and local administrations
have spent vast resources to secure the victory for pro-government
parties, primarily United Russia. To back "the party of power,"
government-run television channels aired elaborate programs on the
candidates while denying equal access to the opposition. David
Atkinson, head of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
delegation to Russia, described Russia's recent parliamentary
elections as "free but unfair."
a high level of respect for individual freedom and property rights
would guarantee Russia's political stability, economic growth, and
integration into a democratic international community. Russia's
authoritarian regime is likely to engineer "foreign threats" for
domestic consumption, including pursuit of anti-Americanism, to
justify its own existence. Authoritarianism and anti-Americanism in
Russian public opinion and policies threaten further progress
toward the rule of law, civil society, and a market economy.
Neutralizing Russian anti-Americanism should also be on the U.S.
public diplomacy priority list.