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Analysis & Opinion
11.04.08 Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: Putin’s Defeat In Bucharest
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Stephen Blank, James George Jatras, Eugene Kolesnikov, Eric Kraus, Alexander Rahr, Anthony Salvia, Andrei Tsygankov

At last week’s NATO summit in Bucharest, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany gained the right to claim an important victory, while Russian President Vladimir Putin met with a stinging defeat of his assertive diplomatic style in Romania’s capital.

Merkel, together with France’s Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded in scuttling the U.S. plans to offer membership action plans (MAPs) to Ukraine and Georgia in Bucharest.

But as a compromise in Article 23 of their final declaration, NATO members plainly stated their agreement that Ukraine and Georgia would join NATO at some point in the future, making their membership no longer an issue of philosophical debate, but rather of bureaucratic yardsticks. The decision to issue MAPs to Georgia and Ukraine has been pushed back to December 2008, when NATO’s foreign ministers, not heads of state, would be able to make that decision.

This was a big set back for Putin and the Russian delegation who came to Bucharest to savor the victory of being able to block a crucial NATO decision through tough diplomacy and backroom deals with major European members of the alliance. Putin did not hide his disappointment during his surprise press conference, in which he lambasted NATO expansion plans as a threat to Russia’s national security.

The Russian Foreign Ministry held an especially angry briefing regarding Ukraine and Georgia’s eventual membership, calling the decision “undemocratic.” Russia refused to allow NATO military transit through its territory to Afghanistan as retribution for the language on Ukraine and Georgia.

Putin was not able to score a final foreign policy triumph in Bucharest and he leaves Russia’s relations with NATO at a low point.

But has he been able to change the terms of that relationship? Has he succeeded in having NATO pay more attention to what Russia is saying? Did he get a friendlier reception in Bucharest? What kind of a relationship with the alliance does he leave to his successor? And where would Dmitry Medvedev be able to take that relationship?

Is the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia finally settled, as the alliance statement would like us to believe? Or is it still filled with ambiguity, a mere sop to Kiev and Tbilisi rather than a real indication of NATO’s intention to move further into the post-Soviet space? Is it a good policy for NATO to snub Russia with membership for Ukraine and Georgia? Does it make sense for NATO members to assume the responsibility for Georgia and Ukraine’s security?


Alexander Rahr, Director, Russia Program, German Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin, and Professor of History, MGIMO University, Moscow:

It is doubtful that Ukraine and Georgia will be given MAPs in December. The arguments issued by Germany and France against these countries’ membership to NATO will not disappear in the next nine months. Russia should not regard the past NATO summit as a defeat. To the contrary, countries like Germany and France indicated quite strongly that they want to build the future European security architecture with and not against Russia. What could so drastically spoil Russia’s image by December that Berlin and Paris could alter their view?

Instead, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev will have a chance to revamp Russia’s relations with the West. The G8 Summit in Japan in July provides an opportunity for Medvedev to institute a thaw.

Putin did not seem angry with the outcome of the Bucharest Summit. The expansion of NATO into the post-Soviet space has been delayed, for at least five or six years. New opportunities to cooperate with the United States and European Union on ballistic missile defense in Europe have emerged.

There seems to be a clear understanding in the West that it needs Russia’s support to stabilize Afghanistan. When the foreign ministers of NATO meet in December, the United States will have a newly elected president. Medvedev will have enough time to prove the sincerity of his liberal tone in foreign policy matters. The Balkans will remain a headache for NATO and the West. Before offering NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia, the West will try to incorporate Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro into the alliance.


Eric Kraus, Russia/CIS Opportunities Fund, Moscow:

The wording of the question seems strange. Apparently, NATO functionaries successfully dressed up NATO’s capitulation before Russia’s legitimate security concerns with a fig leaf.

Put together, the rebuff of Ukraine and Georgia along with the compromise was expected, but the defeat still stung for those with a more assertive foreign policy stance. Putin was clearly victorious, at least regarding the essentials. The focus of Russian diplomacy has been to stop the expansion of NATO, as well as to prevent the positioning of American missiles along Russia’s borders.

Russia clearly prevailed in holding back NATO from its southern borders. Despite George Bush and the Eastern Europeans touting accession for Georgia and Ukraine, both France and Germany cast their vetoes. NATO’s cold warrior Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffe promised that these states would be invited eventually, but this was no more than an exercise in damage control.

Given the veto power of all member states, accession is a gift entirely outside his remit, and the Europeans wisely chose to respect Russia’s line in the sand. NATO has expanded quite far enough to ensure whatever security goals it wishes to pursue and will not be hijacked as a coalition to surround Russia.

On the missle defense front, NATO endorsement was purely pro forma. This is a question for American, Czech and Polish politicians. The latter two have shown signs of rethinking their positions. With the Bush administration soon relegated to history, the U.S. Congress has twice declined to provide sufficient funding. Both Democratic candidates have expressed their outright opposition. The missile bases are unlikely to see the light of day, though the issue will be a mainstay of diplomatic haggling for some years to come.

Bush apparently sought to complete his legacy – uniquely catastrophic in the diplomatic, political and economic spheres – with one more achievement, a new Cold War in Europe. In this, at least, he has failed. Washington is far away, and the Europeans are aware that they must continue to share a continent with Russia.

After a period of cold peace, the largest European countries are once again paying close attention to their vital relationship with Russia – perhaps less a matter of love than expedience. While Sarkozy sounded a hostile tone during his campaign, no sooner was he elected than – voila! – he was in Moscow, successfully canvassing for French oil major Total to be allowed to partner with Gazprom.

Likewise, under the threat of recession, Merkel has done her best to increase the volume of German trade with its most solvent client. Neither one wishes to tank the relationship in order to please an ideologically-driven regime in its final throes.

The politicians will do the right thing eventually, but only after exhausting all available alternatives. Europe has nothing to gain, and much to lose, by gratuitously antagonizing Russia – which, 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, remains far more threatened than threatening.

Economic logic will play a helpful role. While the gradual collapse of the U.S. “free-markets” financial model threatens European economic survival, Russian growth remains exuberant.

Russia will be the largest European consumer market by 2010. The state of Russia’s light manufacturing sector offers potential salvation to European manufacturers. Add to this Europe’s increasing energy dependency, and Gazprom’s success in fending off competing projects, and perhaps it is time for Brussels to quit playing with toy soldiers – and to begin building bridges to Moscow.


Eugene Kolesnikov, Private Consultant, the Netherlands:

Zbigniew Brzezinski's “grand chessboard” strategy for securing America’s primacy in Eurasia provides a suitable context for evaluation of Russia’s impact on the outcomes of the NATO summit in Bucharest. He writes, “How America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions (…) It is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus of also challenging America.”

Accordingly, the main goal of American geopolitics in Eurasia, as defined by Brzezinski, has been to prevent re-emergence of a powerful and independent Russia, China and also the EU. The role of the EU on this “grand chessboard” is to be a subordinate partner to America. China is to be “managed” as a regional self-contained player posing no global challenges. As for Russia, Brzezinski reiterated his case for Russia containment and NATO expansion in his latest, rather emotional article, “Putin's Choice” in Washington Quarterly, published shortly before the summit.

This case, relentlessly pursued by the United States since 1991, is starting to break down. China’s global ambitions have been underestimated. As a result America’s China policy is being reevaluated, and the signs are clear. There is increased concern about Chinese military buildup, establishment of the ARICOM (Africa Military Command), orchestration of Tibetan protests, etc.

The subjugation of the European Union is not working well either. By going into Iraq despite strong opposition from France and Germany, the United States seriously alarmed old European powers about the potential consequences of U.S. hegemony in Eurasia. Disputes about European (read EU-Russia) energy policy and the role of NATO in the post-Soviet world are signs of this growing concern.

Old Europe started to recognize that Russia is an important member of the capitalist world-system, a vital element for the EU’s economic stability and security. Russia is a resurgent power that has to be reckoned with. Russian counter-balance is increasingly viewed as beneficial for long term security of the continent through the balance of power equation. Without Russia, old European powers have little leverage to stop a steam-rolling United States.

French and German refusal to grant MAPs to Ukraine and Georgia in the face of stiff U.S. pressure is the result of such calculations and a clear sign of Putin’s success in pursuing a multi-lateral security arrangement for Eurasia that would include a balanced partnership between the United States, European Union and Russia on one side and China on the other side of the equation.


Andrei Tsygankov, Professor of International Relations, San-Francisco State University, San-Francisco, CA:

For Russia the summit’s results are a mixed blessing, and Vladimir Putin probably should have avoided the summit given the odds and possible outcomes. No MAP for Georgia and Ukraine, a vague declaration of intention to build a joint missile defense system and some limited progress in allocating resources for securing Afghanistan are very modest accomplishments.

The negative side is more impressive. NATO expansion is continuing, and the question of MAP may be revisited before the end of the year. A joint missile defense system is only a promise with no clear guidelines as to how to move forward.

Afghanistan is likely to remain the most important security issue given the extremely limited resources and weak commitments among NATO allies to change the situation on the ground. If anything, the latter powerfully demonstrates that the alliance has turned into a bureaucratic machine with no clear mission and no sense of real threats. Instead of trying to develop cooperation with Russia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the CIS Collective Security Treaty to address a security vacuum in Afghanistan and Central Asia, NATO continues the senseless expansion to the East as if the real threat were Russia.

This is a defeat for Putin, but it is also a defeat for other parties involved. Failure to develop joint security projects is going to further exacerbate the issue of NATO expansion. Faced with prospects of deployment of NATO troops in its immediate proximity, Russia will likely support anti-NATO forces and autonomies in Georgia and Ukraine. It is possible that Russia will want independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia and pursue a similar strategy with regard to Crimea in Ukraine.

Georgia and Ukraine – so eager to join the alliance – will do so at the expense of their territorial integrity and a new military buildup in the region. NATO will continue to soften as an alliance, unable to provide a meaningful protection for its eastern members and with no strategy for dealing with real security threats coming from Eurasia.


James George Jatras, Principal, Squire Sanders Public Advocacy, LLC, Director, American Council for Kosovo, Washington:

I wouldn’t exactly call Bucharest a defeat for President Putin, but it sure wasn’t a victory. What is hard to understand is why Russia, which came to the table holding the strong hand, allowed itself to be bested by an adversary in a considerably weaker position. George Bush had no cards to play, having presided over one of the most miserably failed presidencies in recent memory. Vladimir Putin’s presidency has been a great success. So why should the weaker hand trump the stronger?

Still, there are two bright spots. In Sochi, there was no Bush-Putin agreement on missile deployments in the Czech Republic and Poland. In Bucharest, there was a silver lining with respect to Ukraine and Georgia. As we say in Washington, delay is the surest form of denial.

The French and Germans clearly do not want Ukraine and Georgia as NATO members, but they don’t have the courage to say so to their big brother across the Atlantic, just as they wimped out on Kosovo. So they settled for agreeing in principle to Kiev’s and Tbilisi’s accession, while dragging their feet all the way. We’ll see how conditions change and whether an invitation “at some future point” ends up meaning never.

Another pleasant surprise – having little or nothing to do with Russia – is that Athens made good on its threat to veto a NATO invitation to the (Former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia. A surprise, because Greece has long been among the more lickspittle of Washington’s satrapies, more frightened of a scowl from Condoleezza Rice than its own deteriorating regional security posture. But any pothole on the NATO expansion road is welcome.

The most disturbing aspect of Bucharest and the Sochi meetings is that Moscow just doesn’t seem to “get it.” The Russians keep trying to cut deals with Washington and its NATO satellites and then wonder why the inexorable pressure never lets up.

As a lifelong conservative Republican, I remember my frustration during the Cold War that the American side couldn’t seem to understand that the communists had no intention of keeping any deals they made with us. They intended to destroy us. In a weird role-reversal, it seems Moscow refuses to realize that Washington will not long abide by any agreements and views them simply as way-stations to Russia’s destruction as a significant power.

On June 4 of last year, Putin cited Zbigniew Brzezinski’s idea of breaking Russia into three or four states. Do people in Moscow think that agenda has been dropped? Or that it will be by the next administration, which in all likelihood will be even more radically russo-phobic than this one?

Washington’s anti-Russian agenda has nothing to do with assuming “responsibility for Georgia and Ukraine’s security.” Nor is it about democracy. Whatever the defensive merits of the missile deployments, they cannot be separated from a host of policy initiatives designed first to humiliate, then to isolate, and ultimately to destroy Russia: NATO expansion first to Ukraine and Georgia and eventually all the former Soviet Republics; crushing Serbia; more “color revolutions,” with Belarus next on the list and, in the not-too-distant future, Russia itself; a program, not yet abandoned despite Russia’s success on South Stream, to confine Caspian and Central Asia energy export routes to U.S. puppet states, per the Baku-?eyhan pipeline, the cross-Balkan AMBO pipeline, and the (hopefully deceased) Nabucco project; agitation to expel Russia from the G-8, as Senator McCain advocates; and anything else fertile and reckless minds can conceive.

As an American, I think all these manifestations of the ideological fever that grips the Washington foreign policy apparat are stupidly destructive to our national interest. We should be seeking friendship and strategic cooperation with Russia, not trying to push her into a corner.

So what should Russia do? On the principle that policymakers resort to the right option only when they have no other choice, Washington will abandon this project only when it runs into a brick wall. If I were calling the shots in Moscow, I would be considering preemptive nuclear targeting of Czech Republic and Poland in advance of the deployments, a less shy stance in suggesting to the Europeans that riding the anti-Russia bandwagon will mean shivering in the dark; a visible Russian presence in Kosovo with sales of advanced weapons to Belgrade, joint Russian-Serbian military maneuvers in southern Serbia, making it clear that any NATO offensive against the Serbian enclaves will not be tolerated, and inviting Serbia to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; further steps to assist Transdniestria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh in establishing an international presence, for example, by opening interest sections for them in Russian embassies abroad; pressure on countries selected for anti-Russia pipeline projects to drop them; and movement forward with a Russia-Belarus union.

These measures can pay two potential dividends. First, to scare the socks off the Europeans, without whose support the Washington agenda stalls. And, second, to set the stage for an aggressive public relations and lobbying campaign to target reachable sectors in the American and European publics. It may seem counterintuitive, but such a campaign is likely to pay greater dividends in the context of an active Russian self defense, as proved by U.S. successes under President Ronald Reagan.

Moscow must understand that not only has a new Cold War been imposed upon it – we are in the middle of it – but unfortunately, only one side is waging it, while the other naively and futilely seeks to engage in dialogue and compromise. Again, the parallels with the first Cold War are both disheartening and exasperating. For the sake of both our countries, Russia must take off the rose-tinted glasses and inject a dose of reality into a situation rapidly approaching the point of no return.


Anthony T. Salvia, Special Advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Reagan Administration:

No, the issue is not “finally settled.” Washington remains determined to force Ukrainian and Georgian NATO membership on Russia, and Russia remains determined to prevent it. The issue will resurface at the NATO ministerial confab nine months from now.

Washington’s Russia policy in the Putin era has been less a policy than a skein of calculated provocations. The latest, most outlandish and brilliant is the one-two punch of planting a missile system on Russia’s doorstep, while dragooning Ukraine and Georgia into U.S. colonial servitude on the pretext of solicitude for democracy.

If Washington prevails, Russia’s deterrent capability – the key to her security – will be well on its way to extinction. European Russia will be surrounded to the north, west and south by hostile forces, and the Byzantine, Orthodox world will be rent asunder.

Yugoslavia was just the appetizer; now, it’s time for the main course.

Russia’s response to Western aggression must be strong, proportionate, non-violent and not calculated to provoke violence. It should entail a range of options from nuclear targeting of states engaged in provocative acts to working with assets inside prospective NATO member states to reconstitute them in ways that minimize threats to Russia’s security.

In addition, Moscow should move to modernize Serbia’s military and provide Serbs in Kosovo all necessary means of self-defense (they will need them).

Inevitably, the West, officially and through the mass media, will declare any effort on Russia’s part to defend her interests to be invalid, morally obtuse and an effort to revive the Soviet Union. Russia should serenely ignore such pronouncements; they are provocations in themselves.

Russia must at all times keep in mind the desired outcome: entente cordiale with the United States and Europe for the sake of a moral, cultural and spiritual renaissance of the Northern Hemispheric nations of greater Europe.

Europe will revive through the recuperation of the heritage of Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, or not at all. And this will happen only in accord with Russia. It will not happen otherwise.

Vladimir Frolov asks if Ukrainian and Georgian accession to NATO is in the interest of Washington and its allies. The answer is no.

In Soviet times, American policy makers were often at odds over whether the Soviet Union was the old Russian Empire with a red veneer spread over it, or whether it was something else – a unique ideological construct, the essence of whose power was the (false) word and the wooden language in which it was spoken.

The great French Sovietologist Alain Besancon used to say that ideology was a parasite that passed from organism to organism, mutating as it went along. It manifested itself first in France in the aftermath of the Revolution, passed to Germany in the time of upheaval around 1848, then landed in Russia where it achieved its perfection of form in the one, true doctrine of Marxism-Leninism.

Could it be then that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the parasite of ideology migrated to a new organism – the United States perhaps? Could the global liberal apotheosis towards which Washington strives indicate that the United States has morphed from the quaint, peaceable and non-ideological republic of George Washington into a new ideological empire having more in common with the Soviet Union than the spirit of the United States’ founding fathers?

John Gray sees the nexus between the liberal globalist project and Marxist utopianism in his book, False Dawn. He points out that liberal globalism is “probably the latest and final utopian project inspired by the 18th century Enlightenment vision of rationally directed historical progress (…) It is yet another attempt to remake human society, of a kind that earlier in this century inflicted on mankind the false utopia of a Communist ‘universal civilization.’”

For Gray, liberal globalism and Marxism share a common “cult of reason and efficiency, their ignorance of history and their contempt for the ways of life they consign to poverty and extinction.”

And if you don’t believe it, just ask the Serbs of Kosovo.

It is vital to the fate of Europe that the Yugoslav calamity not be replicated on Russian soil, or anywhere else for that matter.


Professor Stephen Blank, the US Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

At Bucharest, Putin told Bush that Ukraine is not a real state, and that, if it entered NATO, Russia would work to divide it since Eastern Ukraine is really Russian while Western Ukraine is European. So, if Russia's voice was heard, then the lesson to be drawn is unmistakable, namely that Georgia and Ukraine should be admitted into NATO as soon as possible.

I interpret the agreement at Bucharest as a promissory note for the future and the golden opportunity of both Tbilisi and Kiev to make good on it by driving further reform and hopefully improving both their coherence and democratic credentials in general and in military affairs in particular. Ukraine's moves to create a self-sustaining completely professional and volunteer army will not only go far to ensure its NATO membership, it will also be a stinging rebuke to Russia’s political and military leadership which has completely failed to achieve this. Thus if these states can make good on this promise by virtue of demonstrable progress in this and other areas then the promises made in Bucharest will sooner rather than later be realized.

As for NATO, it has enlarged several times since 1994 and Russia is not under attack. NATO is no more a security threat to Russia than it is to Namibia and Moscow knows it. Otherwise, it would not have suspended compliance with the Convential Armed Forces in Europe treaty.

The real military threats are Islamic terrorism in the north Caucasus and Afghanistan as well as the unrelenting missile buildups of China and Iran, as people like Putin and Sergei Ivanov occasionally admit. Hence, they have called on globalizing the the nuclear forces treaty, something neither China nor Iran will sign onto.

Putin's now public revisionism about CIS governments, which only echoes what his ambassadors have been saying publicly for years indicates that it is not NATO that threatens Russia, rather Russia threatens states who want to join NATO and that such membership negates those threats, just as EU membership undermines Russia's economic capabilities to wage economic warfare against other states.

As Robert Larsson of the Swedish Defense Research Agency has pointed out, Russian energy cutoffs are overwhelmingly political weapons as are the threats involving missiles in Kaliningrad or against Ukraine, the Black Sea Fleet, information attacks against Estonia, etc.

By enlarging, NATO does not snub Russia, rather it sees it for what it is and takes appropriate steps. At the same time, NATO has substantially disarmed since the end of the Cold War as Moscow knows, and its difficulties in Afghanistan are further signs of its essential unwillingness to engage in military action. Ultimately though NATO cannot remain aloof from countries like Ukraine and Georgia for they are not only Russia's near abroad, but also Europe's near abroad and, if their security is threatened, so is Europe's.
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