In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

After Bush, Obama must catch up with Russia

Posted by smeddum on November 10, 2008

After Bush, Obama must catch up with Russia
10/ 11/ 2008

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) – George Bush Jr. has managed to cultivate such a strong feeling against his White House in the world and has dented US reputation so badly that any change on Pennsylvania Avenue is like a breath of fresh air.

The new US president-elect, Barack Obama, will, of course, be better than George Bush Jr. for the simple reason that nobody can be worse. In view of Bush’s offensive character, even John McCain would surely have looked better. But that is a purely human response. In politics everything is the other way round. It is not enough to be good and sometimes insufficient to be bad.

The rhetorical question often asked only a week ago – who is better for Russia, Obama or McCain – hides a simple and common approach to the matter. For Russia, in a global perspective, it would be better if the United States finally caught up with times. And the White House learned to see, listen to and understand what is happening round it.

Now, from whatever angle you look at the United States as run by George Bush Jr., it seems that all of them, he, Condoleezza Rice and Vice-President Dick Cheney, the chief ideologist of neo-conservatism and the administration’s foreign policy platform, never ventured beyond “younger Ronald Reagan’s mold”, at least concerning Russia.

The United States has so badly fallen behind a fast changing world that now it will have to catch up with Europe, Asia and Russia. While it played the role of a monopoly superpower, and sought global exclusiveness, the rest of the world marched ahead.

History sometimes shows paradoxical twists. The Soviet Union found itself in a similar position in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its dogmas were different, but mentality as hardened as America’s. Now this mentality has to be tossed aside.

The new administration will have to look at Russia through a different prism, since it is no longer Yeltsin’s “lame” Russia, nor a slowly recovering Russia of a “younger” Putin, but a different of Russia. It is not re-instating an imperial ideology, nor claiming its “zones of influence.” Russia is merely asserting its national interests according to its economic and geopolitical philosophies: around the perimeter of its borders and far beyond them, in any hemisphere. She is no longer the sort of Russia which will believe that NATO would not expand by absorbing socialist-bloc countries, and at the expense of the Baltics. Attempts to “tighten up its girth” by means of a puppet Georgian president (you cannot deny it is so) ended pityingly for the president himself. When somebody begins energetically shifting furniture in your entrance hall, without bothering to at least inform you of the reason, one need not feel surprised at the automatic response. Russia has grown tired of playing the dupe.

Russia has made so many advances to the West in the hope of understanding that, seemingly, it has overdone it. That is, of course, a mistake and will have to be corrected. But the ball is now in America’s court. It is now America’s turn to persuade Moscow of its good intentions, not the other way round.

Russia knows what it would hate Obama to do. Russia would hate him to continue Bush’s “nuclear game” in the Czech Republic and Poland and set up a new missile defence shield targeted against Russia. Fairy tales about the “Iranian threat” are no longer accepted even by soulful listeners.

President Dmitry Medvedev has recently announced that Moscow will respond to American missiles by deploying its latest Iskander theatre missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave. Again “nuclear butting”? Russia would hate Washington to carve up regimes along its borders at will and install its own puppets (of the Mikheil Saakashvili type): why not leave the countries themselves to decide their future?

Russia would hate to see NATO stand for the UN, and the basics of international law warped to fit “the circumstances” (as was the case with Kosovo and Yugoslavia). Russia would hate to see an empty shell of progress at negotiations on strategic stability, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and “transparency” of American missile defences.

Russia would hate Obama to do many things, only it is not very sure of what he is going to do. To judge from the brain behind the administration’s foreign policy, Vice-President-elect Joe Biden, his anti-Russian rhetoric was more hawkish than John McCain’s. True, Biden (it is common knowledge in Washington) suffers from logorrhea, but the realities of the modern multi-polar world must adjust his rhetoric.

A lot will depend on the way the “new White House” will build its relations with the Kremlin, including for America. It is clear that the US will not give up the idea of global leadership, but in the current situation it will have to realign its forces in the world and seek closer cooperation on many international issues with Europe, China, India, and Russia.

Moscow and Washington need not either love or hate each other. They – if Obama so wishes, and there is every ground for believing he does – can establish a stable relationship whose key note could be cooperation in drastic armament cuts.

We could agree on a new comprehensive arms control treaty to replace the existing START-1. The current treaty expires in December of next year. A new treaty, according to Sergei Rogov, director of the Institute of US and Canadian Studies, could be concluded as early as the summer or autumn of 2009. Its conclusion becomes essential in conditions of a crumbling security regime in armaments.

Most likely, the new treaty will be linked by Russia to the stationing of an American missile system in Europe. So Barack Obama will have to choose. Either a new arms control agreement and cooperation with Russia on a series of issues, including Iran, North Korea, etc. plus a renunciation of a missile defence system in Europe. Or the second scenario of development, which is less optimistic and which provides for a further aggravation of bilateral relations, including a bitter clash on Ukraine and Georgia’s entry into NATO.

Today’s circumstances are special. Clearly, amid financial turmoil and international instability, both the Kremlin and the White House will have to come to a variety of agreements. Washington, whether it likes it or not, will have to compromise, because if America continues its one-way policy in the world it risks losing a good deal more. Obviously, Obama understands that. The wish is that this understanding might take material form.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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