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16 Feb, 2009 06:18

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review

This Monday we are reviewing op-ed pieces and columns published by Russian daily newspapers today and by Russian weekly magazines during the previous week.

The articles in review deal with the current breakthrough in Russia’s relations with the U.S.

In an exclusive article published today by Kommersant Daily former Russian Foreign minister Igor Ivanov writes that the current intensification in Russia-U.S. political contacts, prompted by president Barack Obama’s call to ‘reset’ relations between the two nations is, in fact, the beginning of a period of hard work. He writes that the good beginning should not be understood as beginning from scratch, as the load of the misperceptions, controversies and mutual distrust accumulated in the past decades has to be lifted first, and that will take a lot of political will.

The former Minister says that the necessity to build partnership anew brings back the memories of the great disappointment which came after the end of the Cold war. Now, he says, many bemoan the past two decades that we all ‘lost’. There were great opportunities to build a new world, balanced, lacking any ideological barriers, comfortable for all, while in reality that new world failed to materialise and everyone ended up dissatisfied with the current situation – developed and developing countries alike.

However, says further Ivanov, no one actually suggested any alternative. The U.S. was busy building a unilateral system of relations centered on itself and its own domination, other Western nations sat back, watching the American experiment. Russia was at first preoccupied with its own survival, then, experiencing a rainfall of oil and gas export income, decided it didn’t care much about anything else. China and India at that moment were developing at such a pace that they started believing that time worked for them, and also decided against extra initiative.

The global economic crisis, writes Ivanov, has shown clearly how much the nations of the world are dependent on each other, demonstrated the dangers of egoism, and finalised the demise of the unilateral, one-polar world. What form will the upcoming multi-polar world take? The author responds to this question by saying that the first reality of that world would be that the Americans are going to pursue the national interest of their own above all, and that no one can blame them for that.

Ivanov writes that, in order to move forward from the spot we’re in now – we need to know what kind of world Russia needs as an environment for its further development, and what the world expects from Russia. He continues by saying that Russia now needs a stable conflict-less world where there are no ‘second-rate states,’ where ideas and values flow and compete freely and are not forced upon some states by others who are stronger, a world where there’s no place or use for sanctions of any kind except UN sanctions, controlled and implemented by the rules derived from past negative experiences.

The former Foreign Minister writes further that the world needs a stable, responsible Russia which is sure of itself and its path and, as much as other states, seeks to become a unique and irreplaceable supplier of some commodity to the world. A Russia that doesn’t place itself in a position of confrontation with the rest of the world, not trying to set up spheres of its own exclusive influence or seeking an absolute world leadership. This Russia should be a fair player in the regional and global competition of economies and ideas. A Russia completely sure of its security: a good and predictable long-term partner. A Russia tightly integrated with the rest of the world in every sphere, including direct contacts between citizens of all walks of life.

In conclusion, Igor Ivanov writes that the ‘Lost Two Decades’ are ending, and ending in a crisis: not only financial but also a global systemic crisis of governance. He says that shock therapy does work sometimes, and wishes that the global ‘shake-up’ will bring the understanding that a deep reform in international relations – including politics, economy and security – is due.

Vremya Novostei has an article by Nikolay Poroskov who hints at a possible deal that Washington may offer Moscow in the next few days: the U.S. missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe against Russia influencing Iran into the discontinuation of its nuclear program.

The author says there is a new feature in the body of the U.S. offer: the readiness to share the missile defense program with other European nations including Russia, which is supposed to demonstrate, among other things, that the program is not being implemented with Russia in mind as the enemy.

The author also says that in case the negotiations on missile defence commence, while both sides will be discussing the terms of a new Strategic assault weapons limitation treaty, the U.S. may try to exchange its sacrifice of the program of doubtful feasibility for real cuts in the Russian strategic nuclear potential. In that case, he continues, if Russia accepts the offer, it will immediately have to get involved in a conventional arms race, which would be ruinous under the current crisis conditions.

Izvestia presents the point of view on the same matters of Lt. Gen. Gennady Evstafiev, formerly of the Russian Foreign intelligence service (SVR) who took part in many Russia-U.S. arms limitation talks. He writes that the idea of deep cuts in nuclear arsenals cannot be greeted with anything else but joy. However there are ‘undercurrents’ in the U.S. offer, of which the U.S. administration prefers to keep silent. The General cites the following issues that make negotiations difficult:

1) A massive reduction of nuclear weapons by the U.S. and Russia has to be supported by similar actions by other nuclear powers, of which the U.K. and France are U.S. allies and most probably they would follow their senior partner and Russia’s example. Meanwhile, China’s nuclear might is unregistered, uncounted and unlimited by international treaties, and Russia being China’s strategic partner doesn’t cancel the fact that the sphere of strategic weapons doesn’t allow any amount of uncertainness.
2) For the further nuclear disarmament a new quality of bilateral relations is necessary. Such actions presume a high level of mutual trust, lacking at the moment. With the U.S. continuing the policies such as eastward expansion of NATO, placing military installations in the territory of some nations in Eastern Europe, militarisation of Georgia, etc, achieving that soon doesn’t seem likely.
3) President Obama’s suggestion concerns land-based weapons. Nothing is said about strategic bombers of which America has several times more than Russia…
4) …and of sea-based medium-range weapons which, given the American absolute supremacy in naval forces, can easily perform the function of additional, uncounted and unlimited strategic weapons.
5) U.S. non-proliferation policies look dubious if one takes into consideration America’s lack of tough actions, or even objections against the development of nuclear capabilities by Israel, Pakistan and India.
6) The total supremacy of the U.S. in conventional weapons and ability to form massive assault groups anywhere in the world due to the existence of American military bases abroad (which creep closer and closer to the Russian borders every year) makes dealing with the U.S. a dangerous game for any country’s national interest.
7) The reductions in nuclear arms on a massive scale may destabilise the situation. It shifts the balance in such a way that provides an impulse to return to the doctrine of a ‘preventative disarming first strike’ which existed during the Caribbean crisis. It existed because in those times the balance was based on a small number of weapons owned by each side.

The author continues by saying that the U.S. is pursuing its own interest which, in the case of massive nuclear disarmament, is concentrated on the idea of ‘strangling Russia in the embrace of nuclear disarmament’ – disarming Russia, leaving it with the choice between losing its capability to influence the global balance of power or getting involved in a ruinous conventional weapons race.

Aleksey Bausin writes in Expert Magazine, issue number 5, 2009 (previous week) that the part of the post-Soviet space located in Central Asia is becoming a field in which a global, rather than regional, game is starting in earnest. The author says the nations living in the region are now perfecting the tactic of manoeuvre between three great powers: Russia, China and the U.S. With the escalation of the Afghan operation by NATO and the U.S., the matter of the Central Asian nations is ever more apparent. Observers can expect spectacular birth of totally unexpected alliances.

In Itogi weekly, number 7, 2009 (previous week) Aleksandr Chudodeev writes about one episode in that game: the controversy over the Manas air force base in Kyrgyzstan. The author writes that the Russian $US 2 billion loan is not the reason for the decision of the Kyrgyz leadership to close down the U.S. base at Manas. Russia was instrumental in the U.S. acquisition of the base several years ago; also Russia is interested in the success of the U.S. and allied operation in Afghanistan and is going to assist with logistics.

The author says that Kyrgyzstan has tried to persuade the Americans to close down the base several times in the past few years, as the presence of the U.S. base makes the Manas airport a legitimate target for the Taliban. That is why Russia insists that the matter has to be discussed bilaterally between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan, without Russian involvement.

On the other hand, the author says that in the past decades Russia has been vacating its own military installations abroad, only to find out later that the U.S. has been filling the space left vacant by the Russian military. The author says that trend has to stop and go into reverse at some point – which is what is happening at the moment.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.