VLADIMIR PUTIN’S MAY INTERNATIONAL MARATHON: WEST IS WEST, EAST IS EAST

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As expected, assessments of the Russia-US, Russia-NATO and Russia-EU summits in May have been very diverse. Each publication, in accordance with its own carefully-constructed view of reality, explains in detail how clever President Putin was in achieving his goals during the talks – or, on the contrary, what opportunities he missed at those very same talks.

Fundamental differences of opinion about the results of the summits are not confined to the Russian media. The Western media are also presenting very different assessments of the new relationship with Russia. The “Kommersant” newspaper published a selection of quotes from leading Western periodicals on Russia-NATO relations. The diversity of evaluations of the subject for discussion can surprise anyone.

The tone of the “New York Times” is rather didactic, “The agreement that became the peak of President George Bush’s six-day trip to Russia for the first time provides a possibility for Russia to participate in NATO’s discussions on certain issues… However as the members of the North Atlantic Alliance are still uncertain about Russia’s complete rejection of aggression and its final decision to link its fate with Europe, Moscow is not to become a member of the alliance or be bound by the alliance’s collective defense treaty….”

“The Washington Post” did not try to conceal its scorn: “The Russia-NATO Council is to be replaced by a less formal body; since, according to many diplomats, it has done nothing but talk while the other 19 NATO members made all decisions among themselves. Russia was invited to join the Council at the very last moment, as if purely for show.”

“Le Figaro” was very condescending, “Besides cooperation in fighting terrorism, which the US is obsessed with, Vladimir Putin has nothing to propose to NATO.”

“The Guardian” suspected that “Western leaders hope that they have offered enough external recognition to the former enemy in order to keep it under control.”

“Sueddeutsche Zeitung” muses: “Nowadays, foreign affairs is like a parfait: it melts and leaves a pleasantly sweet taste in your mouth, but it can never be the main course….”

“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitsung” is sorrowful and warning at the same time, “Europeans have nothing to do but to join the Russia-US dialogue on security and economic issues, otherwise they take the risk of becoming political outsiders. It primarily depends on the West, whether Russia will become a reliable and long-term partner. The new council is not a remedy for changes in Russian society, or for Russian weakness and behavior.”

President Bush also received his share of criticism: “Since September 11, we have become used to considering Bush’s naive simplicity and straightforwardness as carrying some austere significance, or even spiritual grandeur,” wrote “The Financial Times” on May 30, “However, the events of the past week have again revived the cartoon image we recall from his election campaign.” The paper meant the European tour of the US president, which showed him off not only to political leaders, but to the entire Old World.

According to the “Financial Times”, Europeans accepted Bush as a living newspaper caricature of an American. Moreover, “during the whole tour, he permitted himself tricks and remarks that even a visiting schoolboy would not be expected to make, let alone a head of state.”

Meanwhile, the paper stresses, US foreign policy has “strong points and weighty arguments: many of them require serious attention, which they have not had in Europe so far. However, at present Europeans are most unlikely to take in these arguments, since they have to hear them from Mr. Bush.” The “Vedomosti” paper titled a translation of an article from the “Financial Times” “Cowboy at a rendez-vous”.

The Russian press was no less caustic about the diplomatic efforts of the Russian head of state.

The “Novye Izvestia” paper found it necessary to stress the difference between the foreign policy style of the first and second Russian presidents: “Yeltsin the heavyweight moved like a bulldozer along all impassable roads, unafraid of pits and bumps. Putin is an inexperienced politician, of an entirely different weight category – he prefers to walk only on parquet floors, with good lighting, and to have a polite conversation on easy topics.”

According to the paper, the West no longer asks “Who is Mister Putin?”. According to the results of first two years of presidency, the Russian president is estimated as a “non-complicated, unambitious, and absolutely adequate and predictable partner. In short, a very pleasant person.”

The paper notes condescendingly, that Putin’s modesty, was generously rewarded with “all sorts of carrots – from “eight” to “twenty” format”. Nonetheless, in the opinion of the “Novye Izvestia”, although formally all doors were demonstratively open for Russia, in fact, “the Russian native remained in the lobby with his glass beads and did not object much.”

No wonder, the West considered such a game to be “easy and not tiresome”, while the inexperienced Russian president “accepted exclusively conjuncture diplomatic Disneyland as a real world.” As a result, he believed that the “he efforts made the cherished integration of the Russia into the family of “civilized peoples” come true.”

Sergey Alexeev wrote in the “Obshchaya Gazeta”, “The US did not make a single concession on any serious issue at the Moscow negotiations. On the contrary, the Russian party gave up all principal positions that before caused sharp disagreements.” Further on, he lists yielded positions: the NATO expansion issue, US’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and so on, including the issue of “Russian steel exports”.

However, the author believes the most disturbing is the essence of present Russia-US relations. “Trust” and “mutual understanding” both leaders spoke about were first of all used in partnership in fighting against international terrorism. As is known, the basis of this, is not the reign of present law with its priority for humanitarian values, but the retribution principle. Sergei Aleskeev writes, “No matter how you interpret retribution, it is still revenge, a factor of the pre-law order, which admits only the right of force and a possibility of annihilating people without an investigation and a court.” This leads to the course on restriction of civil rights and a possibility of offense against a sovereign state based on a suspicion of international terrorism.

As Sergei Alexeev stresses, such a course is very convenient for Russia, “it is the best way to justify Russia’s military actions in Chechnya plus to liquidate a threat of aggressive Islamism from the south.”

At the same time, it should be remembered that in today’s Russia there are finally some preconditions for forming a modern lawful system, “after many centuries of tyranny and lawlessness”. The process started, although there are numerous hardships on its way. Unfortunately, from this standpoint, foreign policy successes of the Russian authorities are a real gift to opponents of the law reform in the country.

“As it turns out, it is now quite possible to refer to the battle against international terrorism in order to justify regressive steps in legislation, and rely on military force alone.” The author thinks it is telling that during talks in Moscow neither of the two presidents mentioned human rights or freedom of speech: “It turned out that the dramatic statements you can hear in the US are nothing but rhetoric.”

At the same time, in another publication entitled “Flight of two-headed eagle” “Obshchaya Gazeta” stated that the Russian double standard in the form of a “Central Asian style of domestic policy, despite the obviously pro-western foreign policy” is a conscious choice. Westernism is out of fashion in Russia at present, both among the elite and the people: “The attitude to the West is naturally ambivalent in Russia.” On the one hand, it is worshipful, with an intention to imitate Western society. On the other hand, there is traditional jealousy and a constant inferiority complex, as well as nostalgia for Russia’s imperial past. Any head of state has to take public opinion into consideration, no matter what his personal preferences are.

However, such a situation is characteristic not only of Russia. In many countries, for instance in Pakistan or Chili the authorities dare to begin successive pro-western policy only when it stops being afraid of the society and feels that it “does not need to take its opinion into account any longer”.

Thus, the paper explains, the lack of democracy in the Russian society creates conditions for pro-western foreign affairs agenda. Moreover, as a rule, the motives of such choice are often sober calculation: hope that the West’s support will contribute to strengthening authoritarian power in Russia. Apparently, it is much easier to construct the state power hierarchy with the West’s benevolence rather than opposition.

“Obshchaya Gazeta” stresses that although the West, in turn, poses as its “undoubted aim” general strengthening of democratic principles in the world, it undoubtedly has more worldly and close aims. “To certain extent, the aim of preserving and extending democracy all over the world may contradict to the issues of constructing democracy in these countries,” the paper writes.

This paradox is easy to explain, “Of course, the West would like to see Russia, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan as democratic countries, but only on the condition that it will not bring anti-western forces to power and, therefore will interfere with the new global challenge to the west, the Islamic extremist terrorism.”

As currently, there are no guarantees of this, the West prefers such countries to have “friendly” authoritarianism versus democracy, “With observation of some decency.”

“Obshchaya Gazeta” thinks that such a position should not be considered a “cynical betrayal of democratic ideals”, on the contrary, “It is a normal compromise with reality, a regular political calculation.”

The “Profil” magazine together with “Business Week” attempted to answer the question why Putin continues closing with Bush despite suspicious attitude of Russians toward it.

Journalists Paul Starobin and Catherine Belton stress that Putin expects political alliance with the West to “bring him real and very necessary benefits for the Russian economy.” That is why a sacred duty of Western countries to “help him more in reconstructed of his impoverished and waiting for changes country.” Otherwise, all achieved agreements are in danger. “Business week” journalists remind that forty million of Russians still live behind the poverty line. GDP per capita totals less than $1800, which is less than in Portugal and Turkey. “Putin need urgent help”. And if there is not aid, the West “takes a risk of missing a chance to bring Russia to the common corral”.

The “Vremya Novostei” paper estimates the situation entirely differently. According to the paper, Russia’s prosperous European neighbors are not delighted at all with “oppressive vitality” Russians demonstrated over the years of reforms of the past decade. “The more obvious are stabilization sings, as well as growth of the Russian economy and calm situation in the country, the drier and more business-like are Russia’s relations with the neighbors and the tougher is their reaction.”

The most vivid example is the story of the “Kaliningrad problem”, which Putin described at the Russia-EU summit as a principal issue for Russia. At the start of perestroika, the West was seriously concerned about massive economically-driven migration of former Soviet citizens. It was prepared to grant loans and even humanitarian aid in order to avoid such problems.

Today, skeptics from the IMF have to establish the fact of “some economic growth in Russia”, as well as restoration of economic relations with former USSR republics and obvious, though weak, centripetal motion over the former USSR territory.

From the standpoint of “Vremya Novostei”, the greatest trouble for European counties would be establishment by their side a form of “United states of Russia”. This would mean for them appearance of a new powerful competitor “with all lamentable consequences for long-ago divided service, goods, labor, and technological specialization market.”

That is why, the paper believes, the West so urgently started to “involve former allies of Russia by USSR, the Warsaw Pact, and Mutual Economic Aid Council in its economic and military-political structures.”

From the standpoint of “Vremya Novostei”, it is also easy to explain why the West needs “fences in the form of the European Union and NATO”, “It turns out that it is advantageous for the mature Europe, with its stable prosperity, to prevent Russia from resolving its socio-economic problems for as long as possible, and keep Russia hooked on oil export revenues.” This safeguards it from any violation of “the competition distance chosen by the West.”

This position is not based on a malicious intention, “It is normal self-defense. In fact, it is “prevention” of restoring Russia.”

The Schengen boundaries are a special, unprecedented type of a borderline, stated “Izvestia”‘s observer Maxim Sokolov. It is to guard Russia’s European partners from uncontrolled attempts of Russian citizens to start a new, safe from their standpoint, life in comfortable united Europe.

So the Schengen boundary is “protection against people, a sort of Roman walls in present Switzerland and Germany or the Great Chinese Wall.”

Apparently, such dams should be hermetical – otherwise they are useless. At the same time it is known that the process of immigration to Europe from the third world countries has long become uncontrollable, however, “this is a human nature: having lost on the main battlefield, people triple their efforts in protecting some meaningless site.” According to Maxim Sokolov, the reason for this is unwillingness to admit that the idea of “organization of the Schengen fortress from the walls of which Europe could watch turmoil elements” is extremely unsuccessful.

In fact, observer of “Izvestia” develops his thought, “it is possible to separate with a think wall from the rest of the world, it is possible to propagate vast globalization with annihilation of all barriers, but it is rather inconvenient to combine these two concepts.”

The “Moskovskie Novosti” weekly explains the position of Poland, the main opponent of the “Kaliningrad transit” idea.

As is known, in 1939 Polish government refused to allow Germany to built a thoroughfare and a railroad through “Dantzig corridor” – this became a cause of beginning the World War II. So “Moskovskie Novosti” writes, in Poland, they hate the word “corridor”. Some people may think such an “allergy” is pretension. Nonetheless, the latest requirement of Moscow is accepted in Poland as “demonstration of imperial inclinations of Russian politicians”.

Meanwhile, in north-eastern provinces of Poland many people earn their living by means of trading with the Kaliningrad region: Polish goods have few chances to capture western markets. Polish authorities promise that introduction of European standards on the boundary will be carried out “mildly”. However, according to preliminary calculations, at least a million visas are to be issues to “back and forth sellers” only, which is “four times more than all Polish consulates all over the world issue. “

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” stresses that “Putin’s fairly successful international marathon” stumbled at the European Union summit and the Kaliningrad problem.

According to the paper, the sharpness with which Putin spoke of the Kaliningrad problem proves that “despite the protocol politeness of negotiating parties” Russia is not very interested in cooperation with the European Union.

From the standpoint of “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, it is no accident, “If recently Moscow hardly had a choice who to be friends with, apparently in the course of the meeting with President George Bush, the latter managed to convince Vladimir Putin that Russia would never find a better friend than the United States.”

Of course, equality in Russia-US partnership is very doubtful; however, it is very hard not to use the favorable political situation in order to put pressure on the Europeans. “At the same time, Moscow should not forget that old tale of a donkey that starved to death, unable to choose between two haystacks,” the paper warns.

“Vedomosti” on the contrary thinks that the summit with the European Union ended in favorable “dividends, which Moscow seems to have received for nothing”. Having taken an extremely tough position on the “painful Kaliningrad problem” Putin “forced European bureaucrats to make the first real step towards Russia.” At the same time, the paper stated, the Russian president in fact took President of the European Commission Romano Prodi at his word. Before, he explained to Russia why it would never receive the status of a market economy country and the next day he suddenly changed his mind.

“Vedomosti” cited Vladimir Putin, “Today, as you heard – as far as I understood, we all understood it this way – we resolved the issue of admitting the status of Russian economy as market.” The paper notes approvingly, “It is a very good negotiation tactics that Russia has lacked in the 1990s: trust but fix.”

Overall, the paper believes, Putin’s foreign policy tactics turned out to be extremely successful. When the president announced the shutdown of Russia’s bases in Cuba and Vietnam, many Russians condemned him for not demanding generous compensation from the West. These “relics of the Cold War” were supposed to be useful in further geopolitical bargaining.

However, according to “Vedomosti”, the May summits proved that Putin was absolutely right: “Instead of bargaining about relics that cost Russian tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars a year, Russian diplomacy concentrated on protection of Russia’s real interests.” According to “Vedomosti”, it is no wonder that right after contacts with the US, NATO, and the European Union, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visited Beijing, “where he signed new contracts on supplying China with arms to the value of several billion dollars”.

Meanwhile, Andrei Kolesnikov reminded readers of the “Vremya MN” newspaper that May 30 was the 300th anniversary of Peter the Great’s birth. According to the author, today it is very wise to recollect the greatest reformist monarch in Russian history. Peter the Great was the first to teach Russia the basic lesson of pro-western modernization, with the help of specifically Russian measures – force. Thus, “he started the chase after civilization, which Russia still continues.”

Just like 300 years ago, the so-called “chasing development” process is usually one of fairly painful “modernizing spurts”. “Russia seems to be caught in a huge Moscow-type traffic jam, and uses any opportunity to move forward a little, only to stop immediately.”

However, in the opinion of Andrei Kolesnikov, a main for present Russian lesson from Peter the Great is that “Catching up with Europe and modernization with preservation of prior political model – despotic with elements of forced labor and real slavery – may bring results but only temporary.”

Andrei Kolesnikov writes, “It is possible to recollect more recent examples of Stalin and Pinocet, however, modernization is impossible without democracy.”

On the other hand, in Russia these two states never coincided…. Perhaps despite the whole present involvement in the “civilization process”, this is the real Russian peculiarity.

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