Sorry Uncle Sam, Russia finds a real friend in the UN
Moscow’s decision to host the Quartet for Mideast Peace meeting on Friday is already bearing fruit.
On the sidelines of preliminary discussions to escape from the impossible Middle East sand trap, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday signed a cooperation agreement with a Russian-led security group of ex-Soviet nations.
Ban Ki-moon participated in a ceremonial signing of the document together with Nikolay Bordyuzha, the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which is comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.Russia's national security strategy describes the CSTO as “a key mechanism for countering regional military challenges and threats.”
The CSTO, which some observers see as a counterbalance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has held observer status at the UN since 2004. Moscow has been campaigning to gain the UN's recognition of the organization for years, and Thursday’s historic signing marks a new page in Russia's participation in combating global crises.
Russian business daily Kommersant said cooperation between the UN and the CSTO might cover such areas as conflict prevention and resolution, terrorism, international crime and arms trafficking.
Meanwhile, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, said the declaration had both practical and political significance for the CSTO, completing the creation of “a political and legal framework between the two organizations.”
Incidentally, Ban Ki-moon extended an invitation to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to take part in a UN summit dealing with the Millennium Development Goals in New York in September
Also on Thursday, the UN Secretary General gave a lecture to students at the Moscow State University of Foreign Affairs. While at the University, he was given an honorary doctorate “for peace enforcement and cooperation between nations.”
Just say no to Afghan heroin
The UN Secretary General said the international organization “should work closely with regional security groups,” and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded by saying that Moscow would like to work more closely with the UN on Afghan issues, specifically since the trade in Afghan heroin has become “a threat to world stability.”
“For Russia, the task of eradicating Afghan opium production is an unrivaled priority for Russia,” said Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics (FSKN). “More than 90% of drug addicts in our country are consumers of opiates from Afghanistan. Up to 30,000 people die of heroin-related illnesses annually.”
“The 1990s saw a tenfold increase in heroin consumption in Russia,” continued Ivanov, at a news conference at RIA Novosti in October. “Today, the number of drug addicts has grown to 2.5 million people, predominantly between the ages of 18 and 39.”
Ivanov then provided the most convincing argument for combating Afghanistan’s drug production: Afghan heroin helps to nurture the very roots of terrorist networks.
“It has been repeatedly demonstrated that the drug business provides the financial basis for terrorism and is one of its main factors for its upsurge.”
Ivanov then drew a parallel with Russia’s past experience in dealing with the world’s premier terror mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, who Moscow says funneled enormous funds to Chechen rebels.
“It was Osama Bin Laden,” Ivanov reminded, “who in the middle 1990s created heroin supply chains to Russia’s Chechnya in order to fund Chechen terrorists.”
Remember the reset
Moscow’s revitalized relationship with the United Nations stands in stark contrast to the atmosphere of mistrust that now clouds relations with Washington. And on the friendship barometer, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow and Washington are not quite there yet.
“I cannot say [that Russia and the US are] adversaries, but they are not yet friends,” Lavrov said in an interview published in the weekly edition of Rossiyskaya Gazeta on Thursday.
Lavrov conceded that, with Barack Obama and a new administration in the White House, the atmosphere of relations between the two presidents has changed.
“I should acknowledge that the atmosphere between the US Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister has improved,” noted Lavrov, who is set to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow. “It has become more constructive and more encouraging to look for some mutually acceptable solutions. However, this is not felt at all levels.”
Relations between Moscow and Washington, despite early excitement over the metaphorical “reset button”, have been on something of a rollercoaster ride since Barack Obama rode into town on a chariot of hope. Indeed, the cloud of dust that his arrival kicked up allowed him to win the Nobel Peace Prize, yet at the very same time he is struggling to extract his country from two protracted wars inherited from his predecessor.
But for all the audacious talk about hope, US and Russian relations continue to be hampered by Washington’s insistence on building an anti-missile defense system in Russia’s geopolitical backyard – and without Moscow’s cooperation.
Not only has this decision thrown a wrench into bilateral relations, Washington’s stubbornness threatens to derail efforts to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which has helped to dramatically reduce the number of ballistic missiles littering the planet.
But at least Moscow knows it has a friend in the UN.