Friday, July 03, 2009


"President Barack Obama should have three central goals in mind when he meets Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin next week: first, to advance US-Russian co-operation in areas where our interests coincide; second, to emphasise the mutual benefits in handling disagreements between the two countries within internationally respected “rules of the game”; and third, to help shape a geopolitical context in which Russia becomes increasingly conscious of its own interest in eventually becoming a genuinely post-imperial partner of the Euro-Atlantic community....

Nor should one ignore the reality that there are serious – though not war-threatening – geopolitical conflicts of interest between the US and the Russian Federation. The bottom line is that Mr Putin resents and wants in some fashion to reverse the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Gaining control over Ukraine would restore in effect an imperial Russia, with the potential to ignite conflicts in Central Europe. Subduing Georgia would cut the west’s vital energy connection (the Baku-Çeyhan pipeline) to the Caspian Sea and to Central Asia. Azerbaijan then would have no choice but to submit to Moscow’s control.

Indeed, in the summit meetings, Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev will be looking for signs that the new US administration disowns the charters on partnership with Ukraine and Georgia signed by former President George W. Bush. Even an unintentional signal to that effect would be seen as a green light for more muscular Russian actions against these two countries.

Hence a frank discussion is needed to lay down some mutually accepted “rules of the game”. The US can indicate that Nato membership is not imminent for either country, but that the US and Russia have to respect Ukraine’s or Georgia’s right to make that choice. In the meantime, Russia must understand that the use of force or promotion of ethnic conflicts to destabilise Ukraine or Georgia would poison American-Russian relations.

Clarity on these matters, achieved through respectful but realistic discussions, would reduce the risks of Russia trying to restore an imperial system in the space previously occupied by the Tsarist empire and then the Soviet Union. Gradual consolidation of the existing national pluralism in that space would accelerate the fading of historically futile imperial ambitions".

Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Russia must re-focus with post-Imperial eyes," 2 July 2009, in

"I think it is the beginning of a new cold war...I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs....

What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was....I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don't people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime....

It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong."

George F. Kennan, quoted in: "Foreign Affairs; Now a word from X," by Thomas Friedman, 2 May 1998, in

The predictions of the late, great George Frost Kennan, the greatest diplomatic mind produced by the United States in the twentieth century, did not, and, has not come to pass yet, as they relate to a 'new cold war'. Thankfully, one of the few, indeed, very very few advantages presented by the new regime in Washington, DC., is a more measured and realistic point of view about Matushka Roissya. Gone it would appear are the days when it was possible to hear that the USA and its allies should law down the law, vis-`a-vis Moskva, on a range of issues, such as say Kosovo, or Russo-Georgian relations, or on Ukrainian prospects to join NATO. Et cetera. Those days are it would appear gone for now, if not forever. Their disappearence is part and parcel perhaps of the disappearence of that bygone period when the USA, was at its epitome of power and prestige, say from 1992 to 2005. As a recent Russian research group (the Valdai International Discussion Group) put it:

"Russian-U.S. relations are developing in an international environment that is crucially different from not only the Cold War times, but also from the subsequent transitional period. This new situation is distinguished, in particular, by the following factors....The most significant change is the failure of America’s attempt to use the post-Cold War “unipolar moment” for building an international system mostly favorable and beneficial for the U.S., one based on “soft” hegemony, on spreading of the U.S. model of democracy and the liberal market economy to the rest of the world. American attempts to control international processes and to respond to the new challenges and threats to international security unilaterally and relying on its own force have failed. Moreover, by the end of this decade, the U.S. international leadership itself turned out to be in crisis. The system of American alliances was weakened".

"Reconfiguration, not just reset: Russia's interests in relations with the United States of America," 1st of July 2009, in

The upshot was the well-noted (and in the case of some in the USA, 'over-well noted'), Russian resurgence, which culminated in the Russian victory over Tbilisi in the Russo-Georgian War of last August. Subsequently, of course, Russia has (like the USA, and, the West in general) taken a 'hit' economically speaking due to the economic crisis of 2008-2009. With the concomitant weakening of both its ambitions and its diplomatic and economic reach. Albeit, from the very very high reaching level of late 2007, early 2008. Not that the Kremlin feels that it needs to climb down considerably from its desiderata, as per the upcoming meeting with the American President, as noted by Richard Weitz, while there does appear to be some nuances in the Russian position, on some topics, primarily it is the Americans who are going to have to make all of the big concessions, in order for their to be any announcements of Russo-American agreements from this Summit meeting (For these proposed concessions, see: "Foreshadowing the Medvedev-Obama Summit," 2 July 2009, in Raising the query: should this be so? A quick answer is: da, da, da. By virtue of the simple fact, that the items that the Americans are giving way on: Georgian & Ukrainian membership of NATO, support for Georgia in general, anti-missile bases in the Chech Republic and Poland, are all items which have no real worth or weight in the true scale of things, diplomatically speaking. As the (semi-official) American analyst, Stephen Blank, recently put it:

"Still, the upcoming Moscow summit may present the Obama administration with an opportunity to lay the groundwork for closer US-Russian cooperation on Iran. Obama could encourage the Kremlin to take a tougher line toward Tehran by linking such a behavioral change to Moscow’s long-standing desire to block the deployment of anti-missile systems in Central Europe."

Stephen Blank, "Russia: Obama trip to Moscow offers a chance for better US-Russian co-operation on Iran," 1st of July 2009, in

With it being quite clear to me (and I hope to everyone else), that Russian assistance and co-operation in dealing with Persia, is infinitely worth more than any of the concessions that Moskva is asking for on other issues. In short, the name of the game is: quid pro quo. Pur et simple. The days of unilateral American dominance and near-hegemony in Russo-Americans relations are over. With that being said, I look forward to a high likelihood of Russo-American concord and a series of agreements. With perhaps the most important being de facto agreements on co-operating with each other on facing down the threat from Persia.


At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Greg R. Lawson said...

I do not disagree that it would be very useful to obtain Russian cooperation relative to the Persian nuclear issue. However, even assuming America backs away from NATO committments to Ukraine and Georgia and from its plans for missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, why would Russia really alter their behavior? They may feel somewhat uncomfortable with Persian nuclear weapons, but is it not still advantageous to keep America tied down in the Middle East while it continues flexing its muscles in its former sphere of influence?

More importantly, how much influence do they really have on Persia? A quid pro quo must be based on the assumption that the other side is capable of coming through on the issue you care about.

I am not adverse to exploring options, but the political consequences of selling out Poland and the Czech Republic (far more than Georgia and somewhat more than Ukraine) seem problematic and the gains ephemeral at best, if not entirely non-existant.

At 12:52 AM, Blogger Charles Giovanni Vanzan Coutinho, Ph.D said...

Dear Greg Lawson,

Thanks for your comments on this entry. For the most part we do not disagree: we both think that Russo-American co-operation would be worthwhile on Persian, and, I presume other issues as well. The nub is 'how much', is this co-operation worth? With you being somewhat more skeptical then myself about: a) what Moskva has to offer; b) what are the costs involved in any American concessions to Moskva. As for the first: I think that if Russia can be convinced and or cajoled into presenting a united front via-`a-vis Teheran, that would count quite a bit diplomatically speaking in the ongoing negotiations / containment of Persia as it relates to the nuclear processing / development issue.

As for the second: it seems that we both agree, that there is not much to 'give away', to Moskva in terms of NATO membership, since for a variety of reasons (Ukraine -internal / Georgia - external), neither country will become members of NATO in the near future, if in fact ever. As per the 'political consequences of selling out Poland and the Cech Republic', well here we disagree. Since, I see a trade-off in this area, as having no more of a negative fall-out diplomatically speaking, than say Kennedy's removal of the THOR missiles from Turkey in 1963, as a quid pro quo for settling the Cuban missile crisis of the prior year. It is not as if, sans these missiles, which as you must know, will not in any way help either Polish or Cech security, have any military importance vis-`a-vis Russia. If the issue is Polish or Cech security, then there are lot more
effective means to ensure that, without at the same time, crossing Russian redflags.

That at any rate, is the way that I see it. Hopefully, the American administration does as well.


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