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Russia’s New Rules for Global Competition

Ambassador P. Stobdan was Senior Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • August 07, 2008

    Russia’s new President Dmitry Medvedev has put forward a fresh foreign policy blueprint and set forth a brand new idea of a Pan-European Security structure, which envisages a role for India in Euro-Atlantic affairs. The 7,000 word document makes a turn from the earlier roadmap that guided Putin’s agenda. Medvedev seeks no “Great Power” status but wants Russia to be one of the influential centres of the world. Not exactly distinct in form from Putin’s doctrine, the new concept entails style and diplomatic nuance; it talks about abandoning ‘bloc diplomacy’ in favour of ‘network diplomacy’. Inter alia, the document seeks a fresh strategic partnership with the United States, while at the same time stressing the need to conduct ‘public diplomacy’ to improve Russia’s image in the 21st century.

    The document has far-reaching significance for the world, for it spotlights the action to be pursued by the Kremlin. Medvedev warns of a major showdown with the West – a willingness to take unilateral action, leveraging its oil and gas resources, for enforcing its global policy. Though the policy paper contains no anti-Western gibe, it reiterates Russia’s concerns over American actions in Eastern Europe. It wishes to bury the moribund OSCE and proposes a new European security architecture to overcome the lingering European security dilemma.

    Russia sees serious flaws in the existing NATO-led structure, which, it says is an anachronism of the Cold War. Trans-Atlanticism for Moscow has outlived its life, for it no longer views the West through an ideological prism. Russia also sees no hope in reviving the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) in the face of new issues that have nothing to do with disarmament. In any case, START-1 would expire by the end of 2009. Moscow issued an ultimatum in April 2007 for a moratorium on CFE implementation.

    The problem for Russia is NATO’s limitless expansion beyond the Eastern European states to the heart of traditional Russian space including Georgia and Ukraine. Moscow rejects the American logic of placing missile defence shields in Eastern Europe (radars and interceptor in the Czech Republic and Poland) ostensibly to deter missile threats from “rogue” states like Iran. Moscow believes that Tehran has neither the capability nor any interest in attacking its major trading partners in Europe. The latest speculation is that Lithuania could be an alternative venue to locate parts of the American missile defence shield. For these reasons, Moscow is talking tough now as it airs the threat of retaliation – basing nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad, restoring the Soviet-era Lourdes facility in Cuba for stationing Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear strategic bombers, and possibly opening "jump-up" bases in Venezuela and Algeria.

    In two major recent speeches Medvedev offered to create a single Euro-Atlantic space from Vancouver to Vladivostok. He called for individual European countries to sign an inclusive and legally-binding security pact to be woven along "pure" national interests, not skewed by ideological motives. Experts are dubbing it as "EATO" – Euro-Atlantic Treaty Organisation, seemingly aimed at replacing NATO. To kick-start the process, he called upon each state to act in its own national capacity while avoiding negotiations through groups or alliances at the initial stage. Once the process is concluded, Russia aims to invite existing organisations like NATO, EU, OSCE, CIS, CSTO and even Canada, India and China to sign the pact. The intention does not appear to be to weaken NATO or to decouple Europe from the United States but more about contemplating a Europe based on an equal role for Russia, the European Union and the United States.

    Medvedev’s proposal sounds glamorous, but will it work? It is hard to imagine how Medvedev could cobble together an assortment of security groupings like NATO, CIS and SCO. It is not clear whether the treaty would be about individual states or about alliances and structures. And, why bring China through the SCO? What about providing security to individual states? Will NATO agree to it? How does it solve Russia-NATO problems?

    There is also ecumenicalism in the Russian proposal; demolishing the wall between Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic-Protestant Europe and creating a Europe without a dividing line. Medvedev’s idea has a moralistic context of pursuing an enlightened approach to security, from security of deterrence to security through cooperation, from block discipline to public diplomacy. Don’t forget, Medvedev was backed by the Russian clergy.

    Moscow is trying to exploit every possible manifestation of European dissatisfaction with the United States, especially over conflict management. It is manoeuvring along the "old" and "new" Europe divide, with France, Germany and Italy favouring closer ties with Russia. Moscow’s new caveat is that Russia’s political identity is fully European, and as such it wishes to be integrated organically with Europe along with its Asiatic features. This obviously dovetails with the idea of an “interlocking” Verflechtung of institutions and economies being pushed by some European countries. At the same time, what is also driving Russia is business interest rather than ideology.

    Russia is certainly seeking a more assertive decision-making role in Europe. If it succeeds it will undermine NATO's role or by implication would subject NATO to external vetoes. Clearly, Russia’s new missionary zeal is a sign of having come out of its internal instability and weakness. It wants the West to abandon its traditionalist and ambivalent Russia policy. Russians no longer seem wary of the West, no longer talking of cold peace and conditional cooperation. What Russia wants is to stop considering NATO expansion as a panacea for all of Europe’s problems.

    The European reaction has been so far muted; the actual heat will be built up once Moscow brings the agenda to the table in September. Given the normative nature of the security threats, a security architecture in a Vancouver-to-Vladivostok framework makes sense, for most parts of the post-Soviet space is sufficiently Europeanized both culturally and politically. If Russia constructively wishes to shape the new security order, it should be given a chance. Russia would do well as a host and a founder rather than being a guest or a member. Putin has left a successor who like him is tough and hard to read. Did not President Bush find Medvedev to be a "smart guy" recently?