Saturday, December 15, 2007

Russia Turns Inward

Ten, fifteen years ago there existed an opportunity to bring Russia into the West. Instead we just declared the Cold War over and treated Russia with distrust.

Implicit in the Russian withdrawal from its Warsaw Pact allies' territory was an understanding that the West wouldn't swallow them up so that they could serve as a neutral, buffer zone at least for a couple of decades.

Instead of that, we began gobbling them up bringing them into the European Union and, worse, NATO. Just as Russia was wobbling its way toward some form of democracy we decided to bring it's former allies into our own alliance that is now parked right on Russia's doorstep. We got away with it because Russia was in disarray and weak. Now that's all changed.

Today's Russia is energetic and self-confident. It has a lot of oil wealth. And it is now Russia that has a deep distrust of us, the West. From the BBC:

In the last few weeks Russian suspicion of the outside world seems to have reached a new level of hysteria.

The day after Russia's parliamentary elections last week we awoke to find thousands of fanatical young Putin supporters patrolling the streets of Moscow.

They had been told by their Kremlin masters to take control of "key buildings" to prevent any attempt at a political take-over by "foreign-backed groups".

Among the buildings targeted for special attention were the British Embassy and the BBC bureau.
When I went outside to ask them why they were picketing us, the group of callow youths were hard put to come up with an answer.

"We are here to make sure no-one tries to steal our victory," one young woman tried.

No one in Russia believes the American missile-interceptor batteries and radars being positioned in Poland and the Czech republic are there to defend America against a rogue attack by Iran. Most Russians have little doubt that America has effected a policy of trying to contain and isolate Russia, pretty much along the same lines as what it's doing with China.

Last week Andrei Lugovoi, the man wanted in Britain for the poisoning murder of Alexander Litvinienko, was elected to parliament as an ultra-nationalist MP.

At the time the sole surviving MP from Russia's pro-Western liberal parties lost his seat in parliament.

Speaking afterwards one of his colleagues put it to me this way: "In the 1990s we had an opportunity to turn Russia outwards towards the West. But we failed. Now it's gone, and it won't be back for at least a generation."

Why does this matter? Because the world's current sole superpower is beginning to decline, helped along the way by the emergence of the BRIC nations - Brazil, Russia, India and China - as the new economic superpowers. A recent international poll found that most believed that Russia and China would be equal rivals to the United States in terms of global influence by 2020.

Not much attention has been paid to it in the West but Bush has triggered arms races in both Russia and China. In Russia, Putin has reacted to Bush's plan to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons and anti-missile systems with a Russian plan to develop its own next generation of nukes and systems to defeat America's ABM defences. America has embraced India to effect a military cordone sanitaire of China's entire coastline. In response China is fielding a new and highly capable blue water navy, advanced long-range missiles and new generation combat aircraft.

Are we headed for another Cold War, one in which the other side may hold the key economic advantages? Let's hope not. A good step would be a US President not committed to continuing the blockheaded policies of the current dolt.


R. Christopher Edey said...

This post is historical revisionism of the worst sort, exacerbated by your evident disdain for the people of Eastern Europe and how they have exercised their post-cold war freedom.

Implicit in the Russian withdrawal from its Warsaw Pact allies' territory was an understanding that the West wouldn't swallow them up so that they could serve as a neutral, buffer zone at least for a couple of decades.

What a ridiculous statement. The Warsaw Pact states were never Soviet Allies, they were occupied satellites, who's governments were periodically removed (Budapest 1956, Prague 1968, a threatened invasion of Poland in 1980) when they strayed from the Party line. A rather odd Alliance wouldn't you say?

we began gobbling them up bringing them into the European Union and, worse, NATO

Again, if your nation was subjected to decades of communist ineptitude and foreign domination, wouldn't it be prudent to join a successful economic union and a military alliance. Each and every state that joined NATO and the EU did so of their own volition. Instead you characterize this as some sort of invasion. Bizarre.

One can certainly debate whether the West's post-Soviet approach to Russia was wise, I would agree that the window of opportunity should have been put to greater use to bring Russia into the West; however, you cannot ignore the fact that paranoia of foreigners has been a trait of every Russian government (czar, commissar or Putin) since the era of Ghengis Khan and that the poor relationship between Russia and the West is also due to Russian transgressions and obstinacy.

Most oddly, despite your consistent antipathy towards the United States, they are the only world actor to which you confer the power of free will. What everybody else does (e.g. military spending in both China and Russia) is done solely in response to American provocations and not out of any internal desire for increased power and geopolitical influence. And as for Eastern Europe, well you consider it no more than a bargaining chip. Don't they have a say in you world-view?

Russia rising to a level of influence equal with that of America? Not going to happen. Why? How many children are being born in Russia? How many people around the world dream of moving to Russia to start a new life in a land of opportunity? What has been the fate of each and every autocratic system over the last couple centuries of Russian history?

America has been the world's most dynamic society for the past two centuries due to its incredible capacity for re-invention and adaptability. It can certainly whistand the blip of a petro-powered Putin.

The Mound of Sound said...

Chris, the WarPac nations were Sov allies, willingly or not. And the deal behind the Russian withdrawal from Germany was definitely premised on the maintenance of a NATO-free buffer zone between Russia and Europe. Was it prudent for Eastern Europe to sign on with NATO? I guess that depends on whether you believe it was at all likely that they would again fall under Russian military domination. I think that's a fantasy. You're right about Russian paranoia going back to the Czars - but do you think we didn't know that while we were expanding our military alliance to Russia's borders? Wouldn't it have been better to bring Russia onside, if not first, then in conjunction with Eastern Europe? As for the ascendancy of the BRIC nations you might consult one of those anti-American, left-wing rags like The Economist. They see it plain as day.

The Mound of Sound said...

Chris, I also forgot to mention that, as a term of leaving, the Russians demanded and were given the promise that NATO would not extend into East Germany for five years after Soviet forces left. East Germany went from being a Warsaw Pact member in November 1989to a full-fledged NATO territory in October, 1990. That's not recidivism, my friend, that's fact. It put Russia on clear notice that deals with NATO assured nothing. I wish that wasn't true but it is.

The Mound of Sound said...

And, Chris, as you're so adamant I'm being recidivist, here's an item that ran in the International Herald Tribune back in 1995:

"CAMBRIDGE, Massachu-setts: Former Soviet and American officials have recently been arguing that, during the 1990 negotiations leading to German unification, the West promised Moscow that NATO would not expand to the east.

The then U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Jack Matlock, has said, "We gave categorical assurances to Gorbachev back when the Soviet Union existed that if a united Germany was able to stay in NATO, NATO would not be moved eastward."

There you go, Chris. That's from the US ambassador in Moscow back when the commitment was given. Good enough for you? Next time you want to impugn somebody's writings, get your facts straight.

R. Christopher Edey said...

MoS. NATO added new members in 1999 and again in 2004, hardly fast on the heels of the departing Russians -- East Germany being the exception as you pointed out. My chief problem with you original post is characterizing NATO expansion as some sort of imperial conquest.

Whether it was the Baltic states at the end of the Soviet era, Chechnya in the 1990s and present-day intrigue in Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere, Russia has consistently made efforts to restore lost influence and control. The freed nations of eastern europe had many good reasons (both economic and security related) to join "the West" while the door was open. If you were a Polish politician next to a Putin-dominated Russia I imagine that you would be quite content that you joined NATO and the EU before Russia's present petroleum driven recovery. Who knows what sort of pressure Russia would bring to bear on unaligned countries? Actually, one does not have to imagine, one can just look at the recent record.

It's not only the West who has had choices in how its approaches Russia. Russia has had many choices and opportunities as well to forge a better partnership, and since Putin's ascendancy has decided of its own volition to pursue a confrontational stance on just about every issue. Russia and Putin could choose to cooperate, in fact, it's certainly in their long-term economic and security interests to be on good terms with the West.

I never wrote that Brazil, India and China are not on the way up. They are. Russia's high mortality rates, low fertility and consistent historical pattern of radical centralization leading to corruption, inefficiency, stagnation and decline are also well noted in the Economist and elsewhere.

If I was glib and rude in my first response I apologize. Cheers.

The Mound of Sound said...

Chris, I think NATO expansion has been driven more from across the Atlantic than from Western Europe. I'm dismayed that we didn't take a more reasoned approach to what to do with Russia on the collapse of the USSR. We ought to have seen a genuine, strong mutual interest but chose not to and, voila, today we've back to an autocratic Russia. I think the Russian people back Putin because he's seen as a guy who can stand up to the West. Why do they need that? Have we played a role in bringing them to that? I think the retreat from democracy in Russia has been directly and powerfully influenced by the West, by Washington and by NATO. What did we or any of the Eastern European nations actually gain by NATO expansion that couldn't have been achieved by less abrasive means? Is NATO somehow considerably stronger to have Poland and Latvia in its ranks? Of course not. Are they interested in paying their dues by sending five or ten thousand soldiers apiece to Afghanistan? I haven't heard that, have you? It seems to me they're a drag on NATO and the security of Western Europe, their Iron Curtain plight notwithstanding. I know one country that'd be delighted to have the Poles and Balts and Romanians and Hungarians hobble together five or ten or fifteen thousand soldiers and start carrying some of the load in southern Iraq. If they're so grateful for being brought into NATO where are they when we need them? Apparently nowhere to be seen.

And Chris, if I got snippy, I too apologize. I am enjoying this exchange.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry Chris, in that last comment I meant to say "southern Afghanistan", not Iraq.