A speech on
Russia by Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice the week before last conveyed a key point: Russia's own integration into the world - a
highly desirable objective - is jeopardized if at the same time Moscow has a policy of crushing democratic development
along Russia's borders. This approach might
have had a positive effect even three years ago. That was before Kremlin became
dismissive of Russia's need for membership in the WTO but long after Vladimir
Putin began to pursue policies "increasingly authoritarian at home and
Today Russian leaders, satisfied that America is tied up in knots in other parts of the world, have a mindset that Russia can do what it wishes, especially in Europe and Eurasia. Indeed, President Dmitri Medvedev was quick to dismiss Rice's words: "No new outside factors, let alone outside pressure on Russia, will change our strategic course."
In Central and Eastern Europe, from Estonia to the Balkans, there is a pronounced fear that, as former Czech President Vaclav Havel put it, "Russia is once more losing awareness of where it begins and where it ends." Medvedev's talk of Russia's "privileged interests" in its neighborhood, combined with a proposed 25 percent increase in defense spending, are alarming. Even before Russia invaded Georgia, 71 percent of Poles were concerned about Russia's behavior toward its neighbors, according to the German Marshall Fund's 2008 survey.
The concerns of America's friends should be America's concerns. After the 9/11 attacks, Central and Eastern European countries proved to be staunch allies in meeting America's challenges abroad, often in the face of public opposition. Polish commandos from the elite "GROM" unit stormed Iraqi facilities in the early phases of the war in Iraq, and Polish officers commanded one of four military zones there. Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia contributed troops, as did Hungary and Lithuania. Czech weapons specialists were deployed in case of chemical attack.
Central and Eastern European leaders felt that in supporting America, they were standing up to predominantly antiwar European powers at their peril. At the time, President Jacques Chirac of France even hinted that countries joining America's efforts in Iraq could find their bids for EU membership blocked.
Today the Central Europeans' solidarity with America is in need of reassurance that the United States is committed to their independence, integrity and stability. Until recently, the lack of Western reaction to Russian intimidation of the former Soviet states, whether cyberattacks on Estonia, the use of energy supply as a political weapon against Lithuania and the Czech Rupublic, interference with Ukraine's elections, made many worry that their sovereignty is subordinate to US strategic interests with Russia.
In her speech, Rice emphasized that negative Russian behavior "did not go unnoticed." But, despite his freedom agenda, President Bush was silent when early signs of Putin's rollback of democracy were clear, and therefore helped to create an impression among Kremlin leaders that Putin's actions would be ignored because of Russia's strategic value.
Gaining Russia's support in matters of international security and the pursuit of positive Russian behavior in the former Soviet bloc are not mutually exclusive. American strategy should reflect a mixed nature of shared as well as conflicting interests.
Russia is in a position to offer help in tackling security threats, including Iran's development of nuclear weapons and the ongoing challenge with North Korea. Russia's chemical and biological agent stockpiles and expertise make cooperation important to prevent their proliferation. But seeking support on these challenges - and it is actually in Russia's own interest to do so - does not mean the Bush administration should remain silent about negative trends.
Washington should have responded much earlier to Kremlin accusations that the so-called color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan are products of American policy to transform the region into a zone of US control. American and European leaders should have been clear that these transitions are part of a process of what's been happening in Europe for more than 50 years.
And while America should say to Russia that the road to the West is open to you, the US also must support the new states around Russia. In particular, the US should continue to patiently draw Ukraine into the West. Helping Ukraine is not an anti-Russia policy. It is a policy which supports Ukraine and paves the way for Russia to be part of the West, should Russia want that. Indeed, the drop in the Russian stock market following Russia's aggression in Georgia shows that Russia is not immune to global financial pressures.
It's unlikely that there's a Kremlin "master plan" guiding Russia's actions toward her neighbors. Instead, Russia's actions are driven variably by ambition and nostalgia, confusion or misinterpretation, irritation or resentment. Our long-range goal should be to create a context in which Russia understands that working together with the United States and European Union will make it more prosperous, secure and free.
Ultimately, US policymakers should bear a simple proposition in mind: Wishful thinking and expedient sloganeering (looking into Putin's soul and seeing a democrat) are not substitutes for strategy.
Brzezinski, a Washington lawyer, served as Director for Russia and Eurasia on the National Security
Council in the Clinton
administration. He is a member of Atlantic Community advisory board. This article was originally published on October 8th in International Herald Tribune and is republished here with kind permission from the author.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Francisco J. Ruiz: US, EU, Russia: Not a Zero-Sum Game
- Hall Gardner: Redefine the Concept of Independence
- Colette Grace Mazzucelli: The Georgian Flaw in Transatlantic Security