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Grigory Yavlinsky

The Door to Europe is in Washington

Obschaya Gazeta, May 16, 2002

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The Coming Visit of President G. Bush: What Should Be Negotiated

After September 11, 200, Russia's foreign policy abruptly changed. Despite the policy carried out in summer 2001, symbolised by Kim Jong Il 's travel by armoured train across Russia, despite the opinion of the so-called political elite, Vladimir Putin unreservedly supported the USA in their fight against Ben Laden's terrorists and the Taliban.

The first reaction to developments in New York and Washington, coupled with the decisions adopted by the Russian President within a fortnight of September 11, represented a serious change in the value system applied by the Russian authorities. On September 24, at a meeting between President Putin and the leaders of parliamentary factions and the Presidium of the State Council, one of the participants advocated support for the Taliban, while 18 participants proposed that Russian remain neutral in the fight between Americans and terrorists. Only two participants said that Russia should participate in the anti-terrorist coalition. Efficient and multilateral support for the US anti-terrorist efforts in Afghanistan was attributable to the independent decision-making of the Russian President.

Such a decision has its own inner logic. The Taliban regime, connected with the terrorist groups in Central Asia and the Caucasus, posed a direct threat to Russia's security. This may represent the first time in history when our country was offered an opportunity to resolve at least one of its multiple problems by diplomatic means, while using the military force of another state.

However, tactics are not the only thing. The decision in September and subsequent decisions may serve as the basis for the establishment of a strategic line based on the retention and implementation of a potential opportunity for Russia's survival as a modern sovereign state in the 21st century. Here I am clearly referring to the self-evident and unambiguous move of our country towards the West.

Traditionally relations between Russia and the West have evolved as part of the model existing in the 18th century. Western countries entered into provisional agreements with our country, exploited our military potential, but at the same time always maintained their distance and tried to restrict and contain Russia. Unfortunately the past ten years have yielded very little change.

Western politicians have perceived and still perceive Russia as a country from another world. Depending on the situation it can be friendly or hostile, but it always remains strange to them. Characteristically, despite the informal meetings between friends Boris and Helmut, Europeans consistently implemented the policies to push NATO expansion in the East. This was demonstrated most clearly in the policies of the American administration, irrespective of the occupant of the White House -Republican or Democrat.

By waging everything on relations with the group in power, a "strong hand" in the Kremlin capable of keeping the country under control, they never believed in the country. The Kremlin team was perceived as the only force capable of leading Russia along the path of democratic reforms both during Gorbachev's and Yeltsin's reigns. Disappointment in the narrow group of "reformers", who monopolised the right to democracy and the market, was transformed into disappointment in Russia.

After September 11 and the change in Russia's foreign policy a logical question emerged: what has changed in the attitude of the West towards Russia? So far nothing much. Behind the facade of speeches and actions by representatives of the West we can perceive the former mistrust, incomprehension and fear.

It should be recognised, however, that there are reasons for such mistrust. I would like to stress here that in my view this problem does not directly concern the Russian population. They hardly differ from Europeans or Americans. We have the same concerns -our children's future and the health of our parents, work, home and security. Even our main problem - poverty - is an understandable notion, although it has been to a large extent been overcome and defeated in the West. There is another problem.

Unpredictability represents a political demonstration of the internal problems of the Russian authorities and elite. Changes in foreign policy did not have an impact on the course to build up a "manageable democracy" within the country. Russia lacks real freedom of speech. There is no mass media capable of systematically transmitting to the majority of the population a view on most key problems in the country, which would represent an alternative to the position of the authorities. Elections, in particular regional elections, have been transformed into a formal ritual of appointing a pre-selected candidate. Courts use the law as a tool to enforce a political order.

This means that any group in control of a censored media, controlled elections and obedient courts can very quickly turn the country wherever it wants - towards nationalism, militarism or Pinochet capitalism. It will be able to apply considerable pressure on or even remove a lawfully elected president, if he stands in the way of such a turn. For the simple reason that he does not personally control the bureaucrats in charge and does not call the tune with the TV.

Russian business, especially big business, is literally tied to the authorities via its past and present. Over ten years we have witnessed the emergence of an economic model where it is impossible to achieve significant results without special relations with the authorities. It still functions today, and there is no place for independent people there, let alone for the middle class.

The political elite resembles a thirteen-year-old teenager with all the multiple complexes you expect at this age. He feels humiliated by the whole world, especially the grown-ups (their role is certainly accorded to the West), who do not understand him, teach him how to live, restrict his freedom and give him too little pocket money. Time passes, but the elite does not "grow up", because a society raised in lies does not grow up at all, just as trees never grow without sunlight.

Finally, the developments in Chechnya also make Russia unstable and unpredictable. The situation has reached a deadlock. The only way out would involve a conference on political regulation of the situation there, based on the Russian Constitution and Russian laws, that will sooner or later take place in Moscow involving all the interested parties and chaired by the President of Russia. But there has been no movement in this direction.

In view of such developments, we should not be surprised that other countries would like to exploit us wherever possible, and do not want to regard us as allies or even serious partners.

Does this mean that the West should wait until Russia matures and is able to manage its problems on its own, whereupon it will call the West and say: "I am ready, will you accept me?" No. This will never happen, and there is no time to wait. In view of developments, the West should first and foremost recognise Russia as a country belonging to the Western community today.

And Russia should be taken on board warts and all, just as it is today.

To accept Russia, the West must accept at least two theses. First, the West should recognise the existence of a very important priority for Russia - the security of our present borders separating Russia from the most unstable, dangerous and unpredictable regions in the world. Secondly, the West should realise in principle and be practically prepared for the possibility that Russia will join all the economic, political and military European structures within 15-20 years as a fully-fledged member.

The first step in that direction could involve the signing of a document on a military-and-political union between Russia and the USA during President Bush's visit to Moscow. In terms of form this could be an agreement, a memorandum or treaty. Most importantly this should be a qualitatively new development, compared to polite cooperation within the framework of NATO or an agreement covering only armaments issues. This should constitute a joint declaration of a common understanding of freedom, democracy and human rights as fundamental principles in the world in the 21st century, common priorities and threats, mutual guarantees of security in case of terrorist or military aggression.

The signing of such an agreement is realistic. Negotiations on concluding a political union with the USA have been conducted for more than six months in Washington, London and Berlin.

Russia - USA - Europe

Does this mean that Russia will protect the USA from Mexico, and the USA will protect Russia from China? - the reader may ask with a grin. It does sound funny, but if you laugh like this, you can lose your future. It is high time to understand that the situation should be regarded in compliance with the phenomena of the new era rather than the last century.

Certainly, the USA is the strongest country in the world: it is the only superpower with a really impressive defence capability and it is unlikely that someone would challenge it in the traditional military sense. However, the US armed forces, as well as that of the USSR, were oriented towards a certain type of war: to provide defence against large and very large beasts - bears, lions, crocodiles and rhinoceros.

The events of September 11 demonstrated that modern security problems are connected with lethal poisonous gnats, rather than large beasts of prey. Due to mental inertia, it is quite difficult to understand that this is a qualitatively new situation. One American strategist agreeing to such a "gnat" example told me: "We shall eliminate their nests." He does not know that gnats have no nests, that they live and propagate in marshes and that you can only fight them by drying up the marsh. The fight with the present terrorist threat differs from the military science of the last century, just as irrigation differs from a bear or lion hunt.

It is impossible to achieve such a task without Russia's help. In addition to purely military tasks - and today Russia unfortunately has a restricted or even symbolic ability to resolve such tasks (and here Americans will obviously have to act on their own) - it is necessary to provide the following: diplomatic support and sanctions against the harbourers of terrorists, provision of intelligence information, aid in control over financial flows and detection of the sources and means used to finance the terrorists, guarantees of non-proliferation of different types of weapons and technologies, depriving terrorist organisations of even the possibility to use the territory of a country, and many other things. Finally, political support is also very important. Military actions alone, deprived of such support, are futile and never-ending. Even if you have a large house-flannel and the most modern mop, it is better to close off the water tap than endlessly wipe the floor.

In addition to direct aid in the fight with terrorism, if the USA signs a union with Russia, it will finally be able to eliminate OPEC's monopoly on the global oil market and, consequently, put an end to its energy dependence.

New improved mechanisms will be created that guarantee non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The position of China in the system of international relations will stabilise - China will remain a superpower, but will not be able to qualitatively change the geopolitical situation in Asia and the Pacific, which will finally lead to an improvement in US-China relations.

In addition, Western politicians cannot fail to understand that Russia's weakness presents a threat to international security. The weaker Russia is, the more terrorism we will face in the world, and vice-versa. At present terrorist structures have been ousted from their customary hide-outs and have to become accustomed to new territories. Russia has all they are interested in - territory, all kinds of weapons and means of production, the necessary materials and, what is especially important, highly-qualified specialists who were even trained during the Soviet period. They are extremely poor and absolutely disoriented morally and politically. If you add here the degree of corruption in Russia, it will be clear that if this process begins developing (and it is possible that it has begun developing already), it will be extremely difficult to handle. Can one imagine the price that Russia, the USA and Europe will have to pay in the fight with terrorism if this happens?

Certainly Russia is also interested in containing the terrorist threat. However, this is not the only issue. The course of foreign policy marked after September 11 is obviously beneficial to Russia: moreover it is the only possible course from the viewpoint of the long-term interests of the country. Long-term military-and-political partnership with the USA implies:

  • the security of our long borders and preservation of the country's territorial integrity, i.e. preservation of Russian statehood;
  • consolidation of Russian sovereignty in Siberia and the Far East, surge in investment for the development of eastern territories;
  • opportunities for Russia to achieve leading positions in world energy production and for Russian science and hi-tech industries to participate in implementation of the most advanced and promising projects;
  • clear orientation of the Russian armed forces to integration in the military system of the West, which would considerably facilitate the creation of a modern army;
  • elevation of Russia's status in the world.

A fully-fledged union with the USA and the West can play a factor in the consolidation of real democracy in Russia and improved implementation of the country's potential. This may be the only way to guarantee a normal end to Russian reforms that have been conducted in such a way over the past ten years that they would appear to have completely exhausted the Russian people's energy for reforms. Bureaucratic reshuffles in most state structures will become inevitable, as officials are simply unable to conduct policies oriented towards union with the West.

In addition to the proper interests of Russia, the USA and Europe, there are also international problems that cannot be resolved once and for all without close cooperation between these three forces, such as the situation in the Balkans, the Palestine-Israel conflict, problems in relations between India and Pakistan, environmental problems, international crime and the drug trade, and problems connected with unpredictable totalitarian regimes.

I don't mean here that Russia will be able to play a role of superpower in the resolution of all these problems and consider the whole world as in the sphere of its vital interests. No. Simply Russia can facilitate resolution of these problems, if it tries to help, and can aggravate them, if it acts counter-productively.

The tragic developments in Yugoslavia in 1999 continued until Yeltsin said "Enough" to Milosevic, whereupon the Yugoslavian army left Kosovo. By that moment the beginning of the NATO's ground operations was already on the agenda. This was avoided: I am sure that with the help of Russia it would have been possible to prevent the bombings of Yugoslavia and deaths of innocent people. Instead of the follies in Rambouillet in autumn 1998, the political decision should have been developed in Moscow with Yeltsin. This was possible.

In general the list of strategically important results of the Russian-American union looks very impressive. In my view the risk is worth taking. Many people understand that.

This is possibly the most unexpected fact. Without a Russian-American agreement on strategic partnership and the creation of a strong and clear-cut system of relations with the USA, Russia's integration into Europe is impossible. This may not be nice to know, but admittance into the European club is impossible without implicit consent from Washington.

Certainly, the USA is not Europe: in many cases they have different cultural, ethical and political orientations and even principles. But they share fundamental values forming the basis for a stable union. The European countries will always regard as a priority their long-term stable relations with the USA, despite inevitable contradictions, first of all in the economy. These conflicts are not serious:, they resemble the inevitable family quarrels of spouses who have been living together for a long time. Therefore there can be no real integration of Russia into Europe, while our relations with the USA remain unresolved. The Russian-American treaty on strategic partnership is a pre-requisite for the European countries and their governments for the beginning of a real political, military and economic rapprochement with Russia, which represents a kind of landmark showing that we are not strangers, they have nothing to fear and that they can start opening the door.

I would like to focus on the following: agreements with the USA and even a treaty in some form of a union will not guarantee automatic decision-making on Russia's accession to the European Union - while this is a prerequisite, it is only the start. We also need to see abrupt changes in [Russia's] domestic policy similar to those in foreign policy. The abolition of silent political censorship at the leading television channels and in other mass media, and end to manipulation and falsification at elections at all levels, the provision of real independence of justice, a real fight with corruption, a separation of business from power and creation of a competitive environment… In general this implies the replacement of the old Stalinist -Byzantinian methods of ruling the country by modern, transparent and liberal-democratic methods; the state and whole system of decision-making should be based on the priorities of protecting and observing human rights. Only this will represent a real movement towards a future union with Europe.

This in no way means that the European countries and structures should immediately stop criticising restrictions on the freedom of speech or developments in Chechnya. Such criticism is not an indicator of hostility and does not serve as its main criterion. The absence of such criticism, despite the lawlessness in Chechnya and attack on freedom of speech only serves to confirm that Russia is being treated as a country from another world that should be ruled with an "iron fist".

Russia will never be like Germany or Poland, it will never resemble any European country. Moreover, Russia will never be like America. We are in some ways better and in some ways worse. However, real mutual understanding and partnership are possible only on the basis of a common value system that is applied in both foreign and domestic policies. A common system is as necessary for efficient partnership, as multiplication tables and methods used to work out the time.

Are We Witnessing Another "Detente"?

A union with the West is definitely the intention of President Putin. In the current circumstances, his political will is enough. He has support and in general the backing of public opinion.

Since September 11 Russia has transmitted very clear signals to the West. Military bases have been removed from Cuba and Vietnam. The reaction to America's withdrawal from the ABM treaty was calmer that could have been expected given the stereotypical approach to Russian-American relations: in the past this would have been enough for someone to turn their plane back in the midst of flight over the Atlantic. The plans of Baltic States to join NATO do not provoke loud declarations. The Russian President has conducted his line very calmly and convincingly towards the signing of a pithy and legally binding document during negotiations on a reduction in strategic weapons. There was no hysteria when the Americans said that they had no plans to sign any binding agreements or when they declared their intention to store the dismantled warheads. Vladimir Putin does not think that the presence of the American troops in Central Asia and Georgia is a tragedy. It was clearly stated that coordinated military operation against Hussein's regime would not become the pretext for termination of Russia's membership in the anti-terrorist coalition.

All this has been done despite the position and opinion of virtually all the presidential circle - many bureaucrats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the military, politicians. This is definitely a gesture by the Russian President to the Western world.

This gesture was noticed. Now the Americans understand that they should not push this hand away and think about reaching strategic agreements. This evidenced, for example, by the decision that was adopted, expressing readiness to sign a binding treaty on the reduction of strategic weapons. Moreover, Deputy Secretary of State John Bolton, during his visit to Moscow, issued declarations that made it possible to believe that long-term strategic and military partnerships could be established. The negotiations of Igor Ivanov in Washington and Georgy Mamedov in Geneva on the threshold of the May summit were quite successful.

Russian-American rapprochement, coupled with the establishment of a stable partnership, is supported by influential and authoritative people in Washington, such as Henry Kissinger. A politician who could never be accused of warm feelings towards our country, supports today the idea of a strategic union between Russia and the West, as a pragmatist recognising that this idea meets best the present interests of the West.

And what about Europe? It can be stated with confidence that Great Britain and Germany support and will welcome the signing of a strategic military-and-political union between Russia and the USA. Europe is in general interested in fundamental and serious integration with Russia, but understands that this is impossible without the regulation of relations between Russia and the USA. Obviously, once such an agreement has been signed, the rates of rapprochement between Russia and Europe will grow.

It is difficult for Europeans today to focus on Russian affairs - they have enough problems of their own. The situation with coordination of actions within a united Europe is absolutely unclear: how will a common foreign policy be determined, how will new applicants to the European Union be integrated, how they will be adopted and how decision-making will be performed in general. The positions of the national states differ considerably: there is no single centre for the urgent adoption of decisions that are binding on all European Union member-states. The more serious the external challenge, the more painful these problems become.

While Europeans are resolving their problems, we have to implement a pre-condition - create stable relations with the USA. If Putin and Bush take this seriously, then at least two of their European colleagues - Blair and Schroder - will do all they can to support the establishment of this Russian-American union.

Certainly, this will not be easy. Both Russia and the European countries will face problems caused by the new international status of the USA. Objectively the USA today is in a very difficult situation. It is very difficult to be the only superpower and at the same time a stable partner. The provision of security in the 21st century is a long-term joint venture, where participants should work together not simply because they like each other, and not even because they belong to one and the same civilisation, but because the problems they confront cannot be resolved in any another way. To create such a venture, learn to be the elder, but a partner: this is the main challenge that the USA has to meet at the beginning of the new century. History demonstrates that the USA can meet the difficult challenges of the time. There was slavery. There was the Great Depression. There was segregation. In each case a wise answer to the challenge was found. There is hope that such an answer will be found today too.

However, it may be transpire that nothing serious happens. In general all the possibilities for a strategic rapprochement of Russia and the USA and the Western world that appeared after September 11 are very fragile. These sprouts should be treated with care, and it is easy to eliminate them. The inertia of confrontation that accumulated over the past century and even earlier, is such that it is much easier to go backwards than move forward: everything is prepared for a regression-stereotypical thinking, behaviour, well-learned phrases.

The easiest thing is to replace the serious modern political process by the well-known Soviet politics of detente: the counting of warheads, carriers and proclamation of the "victories of Soviet-Russian diplomacy in the fight for peace between Russia and the USA." Do you remember "detente"?

Detente as a foreign policy concept in current conditions is absolutely senseless. This a rational, but technical issue that is incomparable in terms of importance with the logics of political values. Therefore, if negotiations on May 23-26 end with an agreement on disarmament, on NATO, on "Jackson-Venik" and common declarations, this would mean that the potential opportunities from September 11 will be lost and that everything will revert to its previous form: to the type of agreements signed in the 1970s.

Implementation of the new opportunities is the personal responsibility of the leaders of Russia, the USA and European countries.

Vladimir Putin carries the heaviest burden of responsibility, as in Russia's case, not only security but the very existence of the country is at stake. Putin criticises the government for lacking a strategic approach to the economic course, proposals that would make it possible to narrow the gap with industrially developed countries. This is right, but our main chance to overcome this gap lies in Putin's hands.

The significant difference between the foreign and domestic policies of the Russian authorities cannot exist for long. There are not that many options. Either domestic policy will correspond with the foreign policy course aimed at rapprochement with democratic countries, or, on the contrary, the decisions adopted after September 11 will turn out to be a temporary zigzag subject to amendments.

In the first scenario Russia will gradually be transformed into a European country from the viewpoint of democratic procedures, development of the economy and living standards.

In the second scenario the customary logic for an authoritarian armoured train will once again become the symbol of foreign policy in Russia.

It is necessary to understand that President Putin cannot be absolutely certain that a document on partnership will be signed, must have doubts as the extent of its implementation and as to the real extent of Russia's support towards the West. This is why he doesn't burn bridges and retains his previous entourage in case of the need to retreat. The specifics of domestic policies of the Russian authorities demonstrate the direction that this retreat will take if the alliance with the West doesn't happen. Obviously, there are no prospects for Russia in this direction, but there is no other way for a President who would like to retain power if the alliance fails.

Where the President will find himself and what will his power base be in the case of a retreat, will the events Foros be repeated (Ed. the place where President Gorbachev was kept under arrest during the putsch)- this issue will arise.

However, today there still is a chance. President Putin can make the most important choice and open the door to Europe for Russia and just the window.

Post your opinion

See also:

Russia-US Relations
Understanding Russia

International Anti-Terror Coalition
Russia's ABM Initiatives
Arms Control
War in Chechnya

Obschaya Gazeta , May 16, 2002

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