Category Archives: foreign policy

Obama Moscow update

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So, there’s an agreement on nuclear weapons cuts.  Is that such a step of major importance today, when the once-terrifying prospect of all-out nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States is of far less concern in the public mind (and rightly so, I think) than a stray North Korean or Iranian missile?  Since the fall of Communism, disarmament has become a ritualistic ballet that mainly flatters the Russian ego because it makes Russia feel like a fellow superpower.  (The cuts benefit Russia in other ways as well; its nuclear arsenal is badly in need of an upgrade, and the country can ill afford a new arms race.)   Has Obama agreed to link stratetgic arms reductions to the issue of missile shield installations in Eastern Europe?  Obama says no (and his chief Russia advisor, Michael McFaul, says no even more emphatically); Medvedev seems to think he has, because discussions of “defensive weapons” are to be included in the talks.  There’s also a statement about “cooperation” on missile defense.  Whether any of this is meaningful remains to be seen.  Russian policy expert Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center writes that the way out of the impasse is for the U.S. to agree to a joint missile defense with Russia, a decicion from which Trenin says “the U.S. has little to lose” even if it ultimately doesn’t work out.  The problem is that, as Trenin admits, Moscow does not want a joint ABM defense system if the U.S. also proceeds with missile shield installations in Eastern Europe.  Dead end.

There is a deal to allow the transit of U.S. weapons and military personnel across Russian territory (and airspace) to Afghanistan to help the U.S. and NATO military effort there.  As Russian military analyst Alexander Golts notes (Russian-language link), “While Moscow presented this as a concession, in reality it is obvious that the Americans’ war effort in Afghanistan ensures Russia’s security.”   Golts believes that this deal was the only useful part of the Obama-Medvedev talks, otherwise no more meaningful than (in his colorful metaphor) the chatter of extras on a movie set who must maintain the background noise of conversation.

There was, however, an interesting reference to Georgia. Continue reading

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Russia and the pitfalls of realism

My article on Russia and the “realists,” partly a rejoinder to Anatol Lieven’s broadside against pro-Western Russian liberals in opposition to the current regime, appears in The Weekly Standard online.

The target of Lieven’s vitriolic screed, published in The National Interest online, is this Washington Post op-ed by four leading liberal Russian policy analysts — Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center (Russia’s leading independent polling firm), Igor Klyamkin of the Liberal Mission Foundation, Georgy Satarov of the Indem Foundation, and Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center.  Actually, Lieven’s piece is not so much a screed as a smear.  He outrageously distorts Shevtsova’s record with out-of-context quotes to suggest that she is callously oblivious to the welfare of common Russians and devoutly supportive of U.S. policy.  In another passage I did not have the space to address in my article, he writes that “‘democracy’ as it was practiced under the Yeltsin administration [was] praised by some of the authors, and adds:

Georgy Satarov was, in fact, a top official in Yeltin’s political machine with direct responsibility for some of the undemocratic practices of that administration.

Satarov was an advisor to Yeltsin in 1994-97 and served as the President’s liaison to political parties.   I have no idea whether he was personally involved in any “undemocratic practices”, but this sounds a lot like guilt by association.  Particularly since Lieven does not see fit to mention that his main target, Shevtsova, has repeatedly said that the dismantling of Russia’s newborn democracy began under Yeltsin.

“Money quote” from my article:

Lieven finds something “a bit nauseating” in the allegedly knee-jerk pro-Western sympathies of Russian liberals. But that seems a much more fitting description for the actions of a Western pundit who, in the heat of debate, brands his Russian opponents enemies of their country–in a country where such a label poses real risks, not of prosecution but of “unofficial” harassment and even violence. (A Russian translation of Lieven’s article was promptly posted online.)

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