Saturday, September 12, 2009

Russia says the Cold War is Over

From RIA Novosti

YAKUTSK. (Pavel Andreev, RIA Novosti political commentator) - The cold war is over. This has been certified by the members of the Valdai Discussion Club - the world’s leading experts on Russia and geopolitics – who gathered in Yakutsk for the 6th annual summit.

The cold war might be dead, but its legacy is still influencing relations between Russia and the West. The attitude towards each other – particularly among elites – is still modelled on the stereotypes of the cold war. Every complication, every conflict in relations turns into a reenactment of cold war rhetoric (luckily so far not practice).
The end of the Cold War brewed expectations of “paradise” of Russia and the West embracing each other within one family of nations. Yet, this “paradise” was lost once the West failed to adopt and integrate Russia in the 1990-s when it was most open to it.

The West has been failing to grasp the peculiarities of internal Russian development. Russia cannot follow the suit of the Eastern European countries’ integration into western Euroatlantic structures. It has been a major force in the European politics for hundreds of years and would not be satisfied with the role of junior partner. Moreover, domestic traditions precluded a rapid adoption of Western values.

Russia today is a paradox. It’s a brew of westernised society and traditionalized and nationalized foreign policy. This is a paradox it is struggling to communicate to its partners in the West, who on their own struggle to grasp what Russia is about and often continue to perceive it through the lens of cold war stereotypes.

Europe and Western societies on the whole are built on the basis of common values. They don’t see Russia as fully sharing these values. In turn, the West is afraid of a modern national state build-up. Hence, the building of a national state in Russia provokes a policy of not allowing the country its sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space to build an alternative structure of integration around itself.

The past year has seen many new elements in international relations – the global financial crisis, a new American administration. Yet, the trends have remained. The capabilities of the United States have dropped. The focus of world politics is moving eastwards. Issues with Russia have not been resolved either. The emotional heat in the wake of the war in the Caucasus is still determining attitudes and policies. The U.S., despite being overstretched and short on resources, is continuing a policy of “selective engagement, selective containment.” This is particularly troubling for Washington in a time when its traditional pillars, like NATO, are struggling and there is a need to support the U.S. with a multilateral effort. This applies to the hottest areas for debate such as Afghanistan and Iran. This also opens up the potential for a strategic partnership between Russia and the West on non-European issues and challenges of mutual concern.

At the same time, there is a need to cool down the rhetoric on the hot topics, such as NATO expenditure, U.S.’ ABM systems in Europe and pipeline politics. Russia cannot expect the Obama administration to take these items off the agenda officially. But can it de-facto rely on a claim of indefinite postponement? However, the ongoing rhetoric from Russian leadership against these issues is deemed counterproductive in the greater scheme of things.

Then there is the acute problem of post-Soviet space. The CIS and the developments around Ukraine present the most danger. There is a complex of the “younger brother” rallying in these countries which contemplates confrontation tendencies. Of course, Russia has no right to veto Ukraine’s or Georgia’s accession to NATO or the EU. The problem is that accession doesn’t lead to the improvement of European security. On the other hand, it is not altogether clear, whether Russian interests in the CIS are limited to economic integration or rather to a broader imperialistic agenda.

The war in Georgia has highlighted the necessity for a comprehensive Euroatlantic security arrangement. To be comprehensive, it needs to include Russia. Today Russia feels excluded. And as long as Russia feels excluded it will continue to raise problems for others. Even at the height of the Cold War the USSR was considered a part of the prospective European security arrangement (subject to abandoning Communist ideology). However, today, when Russia has given up Communist ideology, there is little interest in the West to reconsider a security arrangement. The current system is satisfactory for the leading players, who will now watch the developments in Russia –whether it will rise or perish in the financial and economic turmoil. However, there is a need to consider the demilitarization of relations between Russia and the West. This model has examples in the country’s relations with Germany and Turkey, where coinciding economic interests prevail.

The question of trust remains fundamental. This goes way back before the Bush administration to the end of the cold war – when new rules had not been agreed upon - and thus cannot be easily changed now. There are a number of topics capable of untying the sides – such as Iran. However, the ultimatums, such as Russia’s declining to support tougher sanctions will end in the appeal of a “reset” between the U.S. and Russia. It is however worth noting that a “reset” has yet to prove itself as a working format, rather than a statement of intent. So far, there is little evidence of the U.S. shifting its priorities in practice.

On the whole, Russia and the West are on a quest for a new identity in their relations. Russia is not an adversary. Nor is it a partner. This paradigm doesn’t exclude conflict from the path of the development in relations. This is all the more possible as the new U.S. administration reinforces the West and uses the financial crisis to weaken Russia.

The positive alternative, however, can be built on a model of the 19th century European concert of powers, based on mutual interests rather than a “zero sum game.”

If the Cold War is over, does that mean we should get our Cold War Victory Medal? YES!

Jerald Terwilliger, Chairman

American Cold War Veterans, Inc.