PREDICTIONS FOR RUSSIA’S NEW FOREIGN POLICY COURSE: WILL THE HARE BE ABLE TO CATCH UP WITH THE TORTOISE?

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Since the beginning of 2002 another analytical periodical has appeared in the Russian media market, despite multiple statements on the “decline of the analytical style and loss of interest in serious magazines”. Sergei Parkhomenko’s team has called its weekly the Yezhenedelny Zhurnal (“the Weekly Journal”). Actually, having established the new periodical, its creators have kept their promise to the readers that they gave after the Media-MOST holding the Itogi magazine were liquidated. Researching the Russian political situation at the moment of appearance of the Zhurnal, famous Russian journalists Alexander Golts and Dmitry Pinsker came to an interesting conclusion. According to them, there is some “third force” in President Putin’s surrounding – another influential political grouping beside the “old Moscow family” and the “newcomers from St. Petersburg”.

According to the magazine, it is this shadowy team that invented the concept of the so-called “new presidential course” – the idea of closing with the West, and first of all with the US. The magazine reminds that for the sake of realizing this idea Russia has agreed on a number of serious confessions, in particular, it closed its radiolocation center on Cuba and allowed the US to establish their military bases in central Asian republics. Besides, President Vladimir Putin stated that NATO expansion to the East is no longer considered to be a threat to Russia; finally the Russian president reacted very calmly to the US’s decision to withdraw from the 1972 ABM Treaty.

The authors of the article tried to guess the names of the new ideologists. In particular, they name presidential aid on informational policy Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who has long exceeded the limits of his job description. Zhurnal also reminds that Yastrzhembsky is an ardent opponent of the ‘multi-polar world’ concept.

German Gref, the main economic adviser of the president, also played an important role in changing of the foreign policy course of the country. Zhurnal writes that his arguments are quite simple: no selling weapons to the East is able to make up for the necessary western investments – consequently, confrontation with the West is economically extremely unprofitable for Russia.

Another supposed author of the new course is Mikhail Margelov, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, who is a presidential confidant on the Russia – US relations. The journalists noted that it was Margelov who exactly predicted the reaction of the Russian president to the US’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. He said the phrase that Putin later repeated in his interview with British journalists, “You should not expect hysteria”.

The journalists also state that Sergei Prikhodko, the deputy head of the presidential administration, who is in charge of foreign policy and Sergei Karaganov, a founder of the Council for foreign and defense politics are also members of the “pro-western” team of the president. In fact, Zhurnal notes, Putin’s new foreign policy course is a realization of the “selected involvement ” principle, that was invented by the Council for foreign and defense politics. This strategy means “conscious rejection of the ‘superpower’ phantom and ‘maximum avoidance of confrontation, especially with the countries and regions Russian economic development depends on”.

Meanwhile, no major participants in shaping Russian foreign policy have been replaced: those who recently threatened the West with “asymmetrical responses” are in charge of strengthening the relations with the West.

This is the Achilles’ heel of Putin’s foreign policy. Putin’s St. Peterburg favorites are not enthusiastic about the new presidential program. The Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry are highly likely to sabotage the new ideas.

Besides, the Russian president is to expect for more hardships: the suddenly successful US’s anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan sharply increased the number of those who believe it is unnecessary to take into account the opinion of the partners in the anti-terrorist coalition, especially the opinion of Moscow. Zhurnal writes, “It is not ruled out that Vladimir Putin is to encounter lots of disappointments on his path to closer ties with the West.”

The president will inevitably have to choose between the stated foreign policy goals and his associates, “If he seriously believes that there is no alternative to drawing closer to the West, he will have to reject his former personnel policy and make his secret advisers the real leaders of the country.”

According to the Novaya Gazeta paper, the relations between Russia and the West, and Russian foreign policy are likely an internal than an external issue. Today many European governments wonder how stable the new Russian course is. They have anticipations that Russia may return to its previous anti-western course as quickly as it acquired the new course.

No wonder, from the western standpoint the situation in Russia is rather ambiguous: “There are good signs in the economy and the law. But on the other side, there is also another centralization of the power, unscrupulous methods of fighting the war in Chechnya, infringement upon the freedom of the press.” The West has kept its eyes closed in exchange to Moscow’s friendly reaction in September; however, it is obvious that the western countries are hardly likely to continue living with closed eyes.

On the other hand, support for the “North Atlantic course” of the Russian president greatly depends on Western policy. Novaya Gazeta writes, that in response to Putin’s rather impulsive decision, western leaders “were similarly impulsive in their initiatives to include Russia to their democratic family.” The initiatives of the Europeans are to establish new structures and institutions, where Russia would “be an influential partner and ally.”

However, have the existing institutions interfered with strengthening trust between Russia and the West? For instance, will it be easier for the “Twenty” suggested by the British prime minister to resolve the issue of Russia – NATO disagreements than the Permanent Joint Council, where Russia formally has 50% of voices.

Novaya Gazeta stresses, “It is not institutions that are bad, but the contents of their work. Or, to be more precise, the lack of mutual willingness.” According to the paper, “There are not enough people among the Russian bureaucracy and security structures who share the declared policy of alliance with the West and who sincerely share liberal values.” The paper believes that in order to seriously change something, it is necessary to carry out a real bureaucratic revolution and to appoint a new generation of diplomats and generals to all the key positions.

Meanwhile, the Izvesita paper reported recently lately the tonality of the western media resembles the tonality of the pre-September times. Two influential western newspapers, Le Monde and the Washington Post published articles that sharply criticize the Russian president. The topics are quite traditional: the Chechen war and the freedom of the media.

Le Monde published the article on the threshold of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Paris. According to Izvestia, it author had evidently gone too far implementing the editorial task: he used such expressions in the text as “death squadrons” – about the federal forces – that “indulge in villainy on the pretext of fake anti-terrorist operation”.

At the same time, Le Monde informs that peaceful residents of Chehcnya are frightened so much that they do not dare to tell anyone about their misfortunes. Izvestia notes, that the latter is an obvious exaggeration. Firstly, it is hard to believe that Chechen residents made an exception and for the first time revealed their misfortunes only to the correspondent of the French paper. Secondly, Izvestia reminds, the same days all people could see an opposite picture on their TV screens: Chechen women were talking to PACE representative Tadeusz Iwinski fearlessly of TV cameras and soldiers of the federal forces. They were complaining not of “piles of dead bodies with cutoff ears and fingers” (another quote from Le Monde), but talked about the issue of returning refugees to their homes. So there are more than enough issues and problems in Chechnya, but they are quite different from what the influential French paper depicts.

The Washington Post also severely criticized the policy of the Russian president, but this time the topic was the situation in the TV-6 television company. However, this article raised various opinions in the US: in particular, Director of Nixon’s Center for Peace and Freedom Paul Saunders called journalists to reject their double standards and reminded that the western anti-terrorist operation also caused a number of informational restrictions.

Mr. Paul Saunders writes, “The TV-6 television company belongs to Boris Berezovsky, who has always praised that the money he made by dishonest ways, allowed him to control the Russian government. Today Berezovsky admits that he invested money in the media not for the sake of proceeds and not to provide impassionate informational sources for the Russians, but to fight against Putin’s administration.”

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper asks, “What could Moscow hope on when it joined the world anti-terrorist coalition established by the US?” Further on the paper cites a long list of possible reasons: restructuring of the Russian foreign debt; receiving privileged loans that Washington could easily lobby for Russia in the international crediting organizations; immediate cancellation of the notorious Jackson – Venick amendment; establishment of “mutually acceptable” for both Russia and the West oil prices; and a special “delicate” approach to such issues as the Chechen war and freedom of speech in Russia and so on.

However, Berezovsky’s newspaper writes, there have been hints on “special approach to Russia” only as long as the US needed Russia. “As soon as the US resolved its major issues in Afghanistan, it has started teaching us how to live properly.”

One more time Russia was taught a good lesson: the West has no friends, it only has its political interests. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, another proof of this principle is the recently published report of the US administration on the state of the US strategic nuclear forces, in which Washington declares its intention to preserve the nuclear ‘triad’ of strategic missiles, bombers, and submarines unchanged.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that trying to justify these intentions, the US administration usually mentions appearance of numerous “small opponents of the US” in the near future, which possess nuclear weapons. However, according to CIA reports, altogether they will possess more than 200 warheads, which, Nezavisimaya Gazeta says “indirectly points at the only potential and important target for the US strategic nuclear forces – Russia.”

The conclusion of the paper is: “No matter how much the Russian politicians are willing to join the western community and its leaders, they will always have to keep a missile arsenal on a side track,” as there are no other arguments that are able to stop the potential aggressor.

“It is obvious that the US has the goal to become the unconditional leader in the northern hemisphere,” said well-known political scientists and journalist Aleksei Pushkov in his interview with the Parlamentskaya Gazeta paper. Pushkov is a supporter of the multi-polar world idea. He writes that the US convinces the rest of the world that the world concentrated around only one pole is a very stable world. However, Pushkov insists, it is wrong, “After the end of the Cold War we were promised that the Golden Era of the Mankind would come…. In reality, it is impossible to stand on one leg only.”

Pushkov reminds that over the past decade since the actual victory of the West over the USSR there have been four large wars: in Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. While in the epoch of two “superpowers” there were no serious wars.

According to Mr. Pushkov, today’s concept of the US that its system of values and power can become the foundation of the new world order is a “disastrous strategy that will in the long run affect the US.”

As Sergei Rogov, the director of the Institute of US and Canada said in his interview with the Nezavisimoye Voyennoe Obozrenie newspaper, in the next six months the Russian diplomats should try to establish a new model of interstate relations between Russia and the US, Russia and the West.

Russia should suggest to Bush’s administration a “program for transition from confrontation of the Cold War patter to new strategic cooperation and mutual security relations.” If the US administration is not ready yet for conclusion of a new bilateral agreement on mutual security, they should sign a “executive agreement on cooperation in fighting against international terrorism”.

Sergei Rogov notes that the present unilateral activities of the US “considerably deteriorate the international situation” let alone establishment of more trust between Russia and the US.

“However, Nezavisimoye Voyennoe Obozrenie writes, the United States is not omnipotent. Washington will have to take into account political, economic, and technological boundaries of the US’s power.” When Russia finally overcomes its system crisis and restores its economic power, it will inevitably turn into a power center on the world arena. And that is when real “causes for equalizing the relations with the US will appear”, as well as the prospect for forming a “stable mutual cooperation” of the two countries, not only in terms of bilateral relations, but also in resolving key issues of the world politics and economy.

Overall, the arrogant US should be explained to that when we are strong and rich it will bitterly regret about its unwillingness to be a friend of ours. This sounds like typical Russian sweet dreams of the forthcoming golden age, richness, and power, that are very-very close – just like in the recent communist times, when we could see all “at the horizon”.

New School University Professor Nina Khrushcheva wrote in the Obshchaya Gazeta paper that the US is always open to new ideas. In fact, it is a delusive statement, and the US’s attitude towards Russia is a graphic example of this. The break-up of the USSR is long in the past, while the US seems to have not noticed any changes, “on the contrary, election of new administration took the country 15 years ago.” According to Nina khrushcheva, the US political science researches of Russia have not evolved in the least – conservators are still the leaders, like many years ago. The author writes, “Having buried the USSR they are using archaic ideological patterns to bury Russia.”

The Rossiyskie Vesti weekly believes that all changes in the US after September 11 events must be thoroughly studied in Russia as the “new presidential course” cannot help affecting ordinary Russians.

First of all, it concerns the US president, who became the real leader of his country only after September 11, 2001. Having been “baptized by a national tragedy” George Bush finally won the liking of his nation and the right to independently make decisions – before it was the team of George Bush older that ruled in the White House. Overall, as the Rossia newspaper noted rather audaciously, “if there were no September 11, it should have been invented” as now 86% of Americans consider George Bush “the best president in the whole history of the state”.

The most interesting is that the popularity rating of the US president is growing in Russia as well. “All suddenly recollected that the whole Russia supported Bush at the elections. And Bush does not notice us. Or pretends not to notice. So far pretends.”

This topic has become popular in the Russian press. Russian writer Sergei Norka was very brief speaking about the September 11 events in his interview with the Vek paper, “Who won as a result of these events? Bush’s popularity rating has grown incredibly, although it is still unknown if he had won or lost the elections. The US military are already locating on the USSR territory, the US military-industrial sector received a mass of additional orders as a consequence of the combat fighting in Afghanistan. All European and Asian countries swore allegiance to the US in the form of anti-terrorist coalition.”

But the main consequence of the disastrous events for Russia is that the decision of the US administration has become the criterion of the international right. “The absolute power of the US is unlimited and this gives some food for thought,” says Sergei Norka to Vek. “Perhaps these international terrorists have stayed in Langly the whole time?”

It is clear that such a suggestion demands evidence – the author preferred the indirect ones: “Who can believe that three or five terrorists armed with paper cutters could seize a liner, the passengers of which are several dozens of strong men, beside the crew?” Mr. Norka supposes that the terrorists had something more serious than paper cutters. Naturally, the question is, “How did they manage to bring the weapons aboard?” It is clear that such proofs are used for impressing the audience, but Sergei Norka is concerned about another issue: “The situation in the world has changed for worse, including the international situation in our country.”

In the opinion of well-known human right protector Sergei Grigoryants, the wide-advertised “closing of Russia and the US” is carried out at the background of restricting civil freedoms – in particular, the freedom of speech – in the US in connection with the anti-terrorist operation. Mr. Grigoryants is convinced that it is not Russia “that will move forward to the western democracy, but the west will start learning the repression experience of Russia, and even the Soviet Union.” Russia has become a partner of the west in the situation when the west turned backwards, “in fact to the 19th century mentality, when the ideas of rights and freedoms were subordinated to the idea of restoration of the strong state,” wrote political scientist Lilia Shevtsova in the Moskovskie Novosti newspaper.

The Russian power elite could not help liking such a turn. However, recovering from the first shock the West has come to the conclusion that the terrorism is not the only challenge for the mankind and that in any case it cannot be a justification for rejecting democratic norms.

Ms. Shevtsova writes, “Very soon we will have to conclude that closing with the West on the basis of mutual interests in one area only, especially in the area of fighting against terrorism cannot last long. If we do not add closing the values to this, we will remain aliens.”

The Russian “pretended democracy” is hardly likely to deceive anyone, so it is no wonder the West starts criticizing the Russian authorities again for infringement upon the freedom of speech and the Chechen war. If Russia wants to become a part of the Western civilization, it will have to accept the western rules of the game: “We must not rebel at constant pressure and requirements from the west. If we do not like this, we may remain unique and stay behind the doorstep of the western civilization.”

Moreover, it is senseless to present a price-list to the west for every step we make forward: this shallow bargaining does not lead to mutual trust. Especially, if Russia thinks that the western course corresponds with its interests.

Another extreme is also very dangerous: the requirement to immediately accept Russia to all western structures: NATO, the European community, the World Trade Organization and so on. Shevtsova writes, when we find out that no one expects for us there, it will become an additional source for anti-western moods in the country.

The author also mentions the current “personnel issue” as an important one: “If Putin is really interested in making the turn to the west irreversible, he must carry out a cardinal purge of the teams that are in charge of foreign and defense politics and that still follow the logic of the Cold War.”

Undoubtedly, the West will also have to make some efforts. So far, states the author, the western activities do not go further good but idealistic intentions, like the initiatives of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and NATO Secretary General Robertson to establish the Russia-NATO council. According to Shevtsova, NATO is nothing but a relic of the Cold War, so why should Russia waste efforts on achieving phantom goals? Perhaps it would be better if Russia and the West mutually tried to find responses to new global challenges, or at least tried to realize them.

In short, until Russia is really ready for partnership with the West, and the West takes this objective seriously, attempts to draw closer to each another will bring nothing but disappointment, concludes Lilia Shevtsova.

On the other hand, obviously the reason for another unhappy romance between Russia and the West is the answer to the question “Why is Russia not Europe?” If the two sides are able to find a common language only if one of them turns backward on its historical path, it means that we are still living in different eras.

So if even the hare is unable to catch up with the tortoise – since every time he sees it, it’s in a place where he does not expect to see it – is there any sense in the question: Will Russia be able to catch up with the West or at least find a common language with it?

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