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Analysis & Opinion
06.08.08 Foul Diplomacy
Comment by Georgy Bovt

Last week, perhaps the most resonant foreign policy statement came from an anonymous source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID). Roughly on the same day when the appointment of the new Russian ambassador to Washington was finally approved, an anonymous high-ranking diplomat encouraged America “to stop teaching us who to sleep with,” and foretold a full-scale crisis for the United States, advising the country to learn to live within its means. He also threatened to stop consulting Americans on any issues that are of interest to them.

Although it has long ago become customary for Russia’s political elite to sling mud at America, the aforementioned statements were unprecedented in their harshness and even rudeness. Evidently, this was a way for the ministry on Smolenskaya Square, among other things, to convey a message that any Western (and American) hopes for certain “thawing” that would show in Dmitry Medvedev’s policy are absolutely groundless. Although, it has long become the norm for Russian diplomacy to publically disagree with Washington on almost all foreign policy matters.

It is clear that the immediate cause for the high-ranking diplomat’s harsh statement was something said by the U.S. presidential candidate from the Republican party, John McCain. He had once again advocated excluding Russia from the “Group of Eight.” On the whole, McCain is practically “hopeless” when it comes to his views on Russia. Evidently, the experience of his five-year-long captivity in Vietnam has lodged too deeply within. However, does this give us enough ground to switch to “street slang” in diplomacy?

Such statements reveal not only Russia’s increasing confidence in its strength, which, of course, can come in handy in any diplomacy and in politics in general, but also its self-assurance, which, in the same “street slang” can be expressed by the phrase “We’ll rip everyone apart!” It seems that with the oil and gas prices as high as they are, we can afford to do as we wish, for example, to act to spite Americans whenever we can. Periodically this provokes some Russian politicians and officials to make certain loud, or even insulting, statements, which convey no special meaning other than making propagandist background noise. Such statements can help make the necessary impression on the men on the streets, whose moods are becoming more and more anti-western, but they cannot be used to build an integral and efficient foreign policy course.

Naturally, nobody is suggesting “humoring” America in any way, or making any concessions to it. However, it is probably not the best idea to continue spoiling the atmosphere of the bilateral relations, especially on the threshold of a change in administrations. McCain’s chances of becoming the next president of the United States today look slightly worse than his Democratic rival Barak Obama’s; however, we still cannot completely exclude the possibility that we will have to deal with – and agree on various matters with – a Republican administration. So why start the dialogue in the atmosphere of irreconcilable hostility?

Such self-assurance is all the more questionable against the background of rather serious economic and financial interests that connect us with America. No matter how much our financial authorities keep saying that Russia today is “an island of stability” in the turbulent financial world, in reality this is not completely true: the Russian stock market is extremely dependent on the fluctuations of the American market; it will not be able to grow “in defiance of” or “out of spite for” the American one. Russian banks are also dependent on Western, including American, banks, and the “sneezes” there causes bouts of problems with cash flow in our country. One of the forced measures is tightening or even limiting credit for private and legal persons.

It is noteworthy that right about the time when the high-ranking Russian diplomat was making derogatory statements about America, the Russian Central Bank announced redemption of bonds of the United States’ two largest mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Investments in these bonds have been cut in half, that is, by $50 billion. The same amount still remains. This is a more than impressive sum. A year ago, the Central Bank invested two trillion 475 billion 388.1 million rubles (a little over $100 billion) into bonds of U.S. mortgage agencies. The overall sum of investments made by Russia’s Central Bank into securities of foreign (almost exclusively Western) emitters in 2007 came to six trillion 684 billion 818 million rubles, compared to the two trillion 823 billion 900 million rubles the year before.

That is, while some Russian authorities (for example, MID and other politicians) use every opportunity to attack America, others (the Ministry of Finances or the Central Bank) invest huge, fantastical sums of money into securities of mortgage agencies, with state guarantees provided by the U.S. Ministry of Finance, which makes them basically almost “state-connected.” At the same time, during negotiations with Americans at the highest levels, we periodically hear suggestions of “working together” on overcoming the current worldwide financial difficulties. And then suddenly we hear the offensive advice to “learn to live within its means.” Can such a political course be called integral and consistent?

Not to mention the fact that excessive self-assurance, along with disregarding and underestimating your partners and rivals, too often leads not only to reckless and ill-judged actions, but also, ultimately, to failure and defeat.
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