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RealClearPolitics - Articles - Bruce Jackson





Last Build Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2006 00:40:32 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007
 



Russia and the West Square Off

Tue, 11 Jul 2006 00:40:32 -0600

Opinion differs as to precisely when the propensity to see Putin as a necessary partner gave way to the realization that a dangerously revanchist state was on the rise in Europe's East. For Russian civic society activists it was clear that the relatively brief period of liberalism, Moscow's fleeting Prague Spring, had ended in the course of 2004 with the suppression of independent journalists, the wholesale replacement of elected regional governors with Kremlin appointees, and the initial attacks on nongovernmental organizations. For the democracy community, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine during the winter of 2005-06 was the watershed event. The repeated assassination attempts on Victor Yushchenko, the blatant involvement of Russian security services in Ukrainian politics, and the provision of massive financing and a troop of political advisors to Moscow-controlled parties presaged the reappearance of a new Comintern in the former Soviet Union. For Europe as a whole, it was the Ukrainian gas crisis in January 2006 that convinced its leaders that a resurgent and menacing Russia had stolen a march on the West and now threatened the independence of Europe's East with its newly developed energy weapon. With its influence and financial power, the Russian state could reach the German chancellor and into the inner circle around President Bush. It is not clear when, in the course of the destruction of Russian democracy and the rise of post-Soviet authoritarianism, the U.S. administration realized that its Russia policy had failed. For most of 2005, those senior officials who would discuss the subject pointed to the constructive role that Russia was likely to play in negotiations with North Korea and subsequently in the crisis over Iran's nuclear pretensions. When these partnerships proved ephemeral, America's Russian hands fell back on the vaguer argument that Putin was likely to moderate his anti-democratic behavior at home and his growing imperial tendencies abroad as the all-important G-8 summit on July 15-17 in St. Petersburg approached. (It would not be until two months before the summit itself that Vice President Dick Cheney would announce a shift in U.S. policy in a speech in Vilnius, Lithuania.) In the event, moderation was the furthest thing from the mind of President Putin. By spring 2006, Putin had succeeded in forcing the closure of U.S. bases in Central Asia through the adroit use of the contrived Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), which he created for the purpose of countering Western influence. He had propped up Russian-proxy dictators in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Belarus. His key political advisor, Gleb Pavlovsky, had publicly suggested that it would be advisable for the Georgian people to simply assassinate their president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to avoid a Russian military attack. (Interestingly and perhaps tellingly, Pavlovsky recommended a single-bullet shot, a reminder of the Chekist assassinations in the South Caucasus in 1920-21 as Bolshevik forces moved South.) And in April, less than three months before the G-8 summit itself, Moscow embargoed the import of wine from both Moldova and Georgia, devastating their economies in retaliation for their democratic deviationism. It is increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that what is underway in and around the former Soviet Union is a struggle between the "soft power" of Russia and the "soft power" of the West for the political orientation of the countries in Europe's East, for economic influence in these regions, and for the extension of their respective alliance systems and multilateral institutions. The West has a strong preference for liberal democracies, for free market economies integrated into the world trading system, and for countries that work well with the European Union's Neighborhood Policy, the OSCE's peacekeeping and election monitoring missions, and NATO. Putin's Russia seeks a Moscow-dominated system of authoritarian states and the odd dictatorship, a "Near Abroad[...]