Reconsidering relations between Moscow, Washington, and Brussels
Rafael Calduch Cervera explains the transformation of the Russian security agenda, culminating in Putin‘s speech at the 43rd International Security Policy Conference in which he promised to oppose the unilateral hegemony of the United States when necessary to preserve Russia‘s best interests. In Calduch Cervera‘s opinion, the current President of the United States transformed the history of past multilateral action by unilaterally invading Iraq, and Russia has followed suit, transforming its security agenda on all fronts. The Western powers must take Putin‘s statement very seriously in order to uphold good relations with Russia for the greater stability of Europe and the world.
DURING THE 43rd INTERNATIONAL SECURITY POLICY CONFERENCE, celebrated in Munichsident Vladimir Putin surprised Western political leaders with his rhetoric. The talking heads of the world seized upon the opportunity to claim that the Cold War had returned (The Times 2/12/2007) and that listening to Putin’s speech was like taking a cold shower (Financial Times 2/23/2007). Yet, by analyzing the contents of the rhetoric, we can avoid these alarmist interpretations.
Putin’s central point was that Russia, as a world power, would not be afraid to oppose Washington’s unilateral hegemonic actions when they run counter to the interests of the Kremlin. Putin warned that he would use a combined strategy of multilateralism, legality, disarmament, diplomatic pressure, and political negotiation. This warning call from the Russian leader should be considered as very significant. It will transform the official position of all of the institutions of Russia, and will continue on as policy even after Putin has stepped down.
UNIPOLARITY OR MULTILATERALISM?
Of course, Putin’s formulation that the world is currently under a unipolar system doesn’t correspond with the international context since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
While some North American and European leaders do consider the United States to be the one true hegemon, before the current President, the foreign policies developed by Bush Sr. and Clinton were implemented with multilateral support that involved the recognition and diplomatic approval of Russia.
The same multilateralism that led to international interventions in the Balkans and the Middle East, as well as numerous peace-keeping operations under the flag of the United Nations, also contributed to the amplification of NATO to include Central Europe and the extinct Soviet Union, the transformation of the CSCE into the OSCE, and the incorporation of Russia into the G-8. One exception, however, that may be noteworthy, was NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.
THE HEGEMONIC ASPIRATIONS OF WASHINGTON
It was only during the current presidency of George W. Bush, that multilateral action with Russia and other European allies began to break down. Without a doubt, the attacks of September 11th radicalized the unilateralist tendencies of American foreign policy. Yet, multilateralism was not completely discarded. The maintenance of Euro-Atlantic dialogue, the creation of the quartet (The United States-Russia-European Union-UN) to manage the pacification of Palestine and Israel, and the negotiations being held to resolve the crises of Iran and North Korea, serve as undeniable proof of this reality.
But the military intervention in Iraq in 2003, with the participation of the United Kingdom and the support of Spain, ostensibly reinforced the Russian perception that the White House aspired to restore unilateral global hegemony. Additional American and European initiatives reinforced this perception by directly affecting the national interests of Russia without Moscow’s prior consent.
The military presence of the United States in certain central Asian republics, its developing influence in the Caucuses, especially throughout Georgia, and the support of Washington for the anti-Russian policies of Poland and the Baltic States, combined with the interfering policies of the EU in the electoral processes of the Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, have induced in the Kremlin a worrisome vision about its future as a regional and global power. Ukraine and Georgia are also moving to join NATO and extend the new anti-missile defense umbrella farther east, further troubling Russia. This same NATO that was founded to balance against the military might of the Soviet Union, has had as its political and military policy the justification of the American Secretary of Defense, Gates, as well as the Secretary General of the Organization, Jaap de Hoop.
AN UNDERSTANDING WITH RUSSIA
The systematic blockade of Russia from entering the World Trade Organization has also been difficult to justify before Russian leaders. While the excuse up until now has been largely economic, the membership of unstable countries like Moldova and Georgia are difficult to explain away.
Finally, the growing criticism of the West to Russia’s new energy policy has further complicated communication. The dissolution of the artificial prices granted until now to the Ukraine and Belarus, and the incorporation of Russian businesses as shareholders of strategic EU businesses, have become objects of criticism, legal action, and policies of resistance from the governments of Western Europe. These measures demonstrate that the Russian security agenda has adapted from a focus on only the political-military, to a multidimensional stance.
The recent political crisis in the Ukraine demonstrated the urgency of rethinking relations between Russia, the EU, and the United States in order to secure European and global stability. And while it is possible to doubt the will and capacity of Moscow to move forward with its new foreign policy orientation (see conclusions of the International Conference of Safe Democracy), we must take Putin’s warning very seriously if we want to maintain good relations with Russia over the coming years.