Cooperation A La Carte?

As the first one-on-one meeting between Presidents Obama and Medvedev is approaching, voices of those who oppose the thaw in U.S.-Russia relations are getting louder.

While Russia’s hardliners have so far kept mum on the subject, the job of torpedoing the emerging Obama-Medvedev dialogue was taken by members of Russia's "democratic opposition."  In a bizarre testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, former presidential economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, called the collaboration between the two countries America's surrender and warned that it may lead to a "war with unpredictable and nasty results." 

Illarionov was seconded by the former chess great and now a professional street protester, Garry Kasparov, who, writing for The Wall Street Journalsuggested that "Vladimir Putin's regime is fighting for its political life" and the only outcome of the rapprochement between Washington and Moscow would be helping "the Russian autocratic regime survive."  (A brilliant detailed analysis of Kasparov's opus has been performed by Anatoly Karlin on his blog.) 

If not Kasparov's forecasting abilities, then his perseverance must be acknowledged: he has been predicting the imminent collapse of the "criminal Putin regime" for the past five or six years.

On this side of the Pond, the drive to "exit" from U.S.-Russia relations was led by those agitated by the concept of a “grand bargain”, a deal that the American president supposedly offered, in a letter, to his Russian counterpart: Russia's cooperation in stopping Iran's nuclear program in exchange for abandoning a planned U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

A number of reasons were put forward to argue that the "grand bargain” was a bad idea.  It was said, for example, that any concession to Russia would be viewed in Moscow as a sign of U.S. weakness and even desperation.  We were also reminded that “Medvedev still takes orders from Putin” and, regardless of what a deal he would be willing to strike, he may not be able to deliver.   

Please note that Obama’s letter to Medvedev wasn’t made public, and no one really knows what kind of a “bargain”, if any, was offered.  (President Obama has denied that he suggested an Iran-MDS "swap", and so has Medvedev).   But in the surreal world that the Washington politics is, chimeras often substitute reality.  Thus, 46 House Republicans sent to Obama a letter of their own condemning the alleged deal on the MDS.  In particular, the authors of the letter pointed out that any discussion of the MDS architecture without consulting U.S. allies in Europe would amount to "undertaking a surprisingly unilateral action." 

Republicans criticizing unilateralism in the U.S. foreign policy – this is priceless!

In the spur of the moment, of course, no one has bothered to ponder over whether Russia was interested in a "grand bargain” of any sort in the first place.  (I guess that when a parent of an ill-behaving child wants to punish him by withdrawing a dessert, it's automatically assumed that the child wants the dessert direly).    

In reality, the last time Russia was willing to contemplate any "bargain" with the U.S. was in 2002, when then-president Putin decided — over significant resistance from parts of Russia's political elites — to invest heavily in his good personal relations with then-president George W. Bush.  The NATO occupation of Kosovo was forgiven, as was United States' abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.  The NATO expansion into Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania was silently accepted, as was the deployment of American military bases in Central Asia.

What did Putin and his pro-American party get in return?  Attempts to further enlarge NATO into Ukraine and Georgia and plans to place elements of the MDS in Poland and the Czech Republic.  When Putin delivered his famous 2007 Munich speech, many erroneously interpreted it as a call for a new Cold War.  In fact, it was a cry of a man who felt betrayed.

Obviously, President Medvedev isn't going to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.  Early on in his presidency, he made it abundantly clear that the vectors of his foreign policy point to Europe and China, not to the United States.  Besides, as I wrote before, Medvedev's position with respect to a long-term U.S.-Russia cooperation is unknown, and early signs show little passion for a substantial Washington-Moscow dialogue. 

Although Medvedev repeatedly said that he looked forward to productively working with Obama on a number of issues, it remains to be seen whether this positive attitude is more than a clever tactical move.  The Obama administration is determined to improve U.S. relations with both China and Russia's "support group" in Europe (Germany, France, Italy, and Spain).  Russia obviously doesn't want to miss the boat by staying on the sidelines of the renewed international conversation.

As a recent meeting between U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has clearly demonstrated, there is one issue that represents the top priority for Russia: nuclear arms control.  I dare to predict that for the coming months, the renewal of the STARTtreaty will be the only serious topic the Kremlin is willing to discuss bilaterally with the White House.  The contrast can't be starker between the deal Russia is really looking for — with START's legally binding and subject to verification agreements – and the amorphous and opaque "grand bargain" that the Washington neocons are so happy to deprive Russia of.      

This is not to say that Medvedev will refuse to talk about Iran.  However, Russia's cooperation on this and other issues isn't likely to come in a "package"; rather, it will be arranged as a menu a la carte.

And as anyone familiar with the retail business knows, dishes a la carte usually come at a higher price.  

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Cooperation A La Carte?

  1. Two previous opportunities that went sour:
    1. Shortly after the failed coup against Gorbachev, Yeltsin’s Russian government openly inquires about NATO membership for Russia, as it becomes clear that the USSR is coming to an end. This Russian inquiry gets met with astonished bemusement. On the other hand, the mood was different when the Poles and others later on petitioned for such membership. Poles and Balts have legitimate security concerns unlike Russia? Russia hasn’t been a victim of foreign attack?
    2. Russian response to the 9/11 tragedy saw Russia ahead of every nation in reaching out to the US.
    ****
    Point 1 became increasingly lost with the wars in former Yugoslavia and Chechnya. Former Yugoslavia could’ve been looked at more objectively. It’s mow established that the originally stated casualty figures (propped by pro-Bosnian Muslim nationalists, in conjunction with some sensationalist Western journalism) were exaggerated. The image of Serbs as Russian surrogates became convenient propaganda. In Chechnya, the Russian government did (for the most part) nothing for a good 2-3 years, as growing lawlessness was reported in that republic. Chechnya could be reasonably spun as Russia going from one extreme (not doing anything) to suddenly taking a military option that wasn’t (especially in retrospect) well planned and caused great suffering (the last point relates to another military action that was started in 2003 and didn’t involve the territory of the nation leading the attack). Rather than attempt an objective approach, some fairly influential sources in the West provided one-sided observations against Russia.
    The cooperative spirit noted in point 2 declined in part with the arrest of Khodorkovsky, followed by increased efforts to show a more authoritarian Russia. This scenario saw instances of understating the domestic flaws in Yeltsin’s Russia – inclusive of Khodorkovsky’s culpability.
    ****
    Refer back to the earlier (in Eugene’s other commentary) matter of growing “anti-Americanism” in Russia and keep in mind some American government led policies like bombing Yugoslavia in 1999, the 2003 attack on Iraq, rhetorical support for the Georgian and Ukrainian governments.
    The mainstream Russian geopolitical point of view is at times answered with the belief that some Russian policies create a negative image of Russia. In comparison, this point can be made about US foreign policy. As previously noted, the American so-called realist school of foreign policy thinking has elements who aren’t so gung-ho on the policies mentioned in the paragraph before this one.
    Vis-a-vis Russia, the lingering biases against it play a definite role in the two mentioned instances when the US-Russian relationship declined. Make note of this the next time you might come across a neocon to neolib leaning analyst saying that Russia has elements who live too much in the past.

  2. Very insightful article, Eugene. Russia’s foreign policy elites have had lessons of how dangerous it is to make unilateral concessions in anticipation of reciprocal actions, which never worked out.
    Obama would have made a great President, I think, it he had been elected in 2000 – re-Russia, certainly more accommodating and less arrogant. Now I fear that he will simply suffer the fate of Carter, smeared for international political and economic failings not of his fault, and will be kicked out in 2012 along with any progressive agenda for the next decade after that.

  3. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Anatoly,
    I’m not sure I agree with you on Obama. First of all, “less arrogant” president couldn’t have been elected in 2000. You really need 8 years of Bush to elect a guy like Obama.
    As for his fate in 2012, we shall see. I consider him an ultimate “domestic” president (with all positives and negatives coming of that), and I believe that his re-election will depend almost exclusively on the length and severity of the current recession. Should the public perception be that he’d screwed up the economy, well, at least you cannot say it wasn’t “his fault.”
    Regards,
    Eugene

  4. PS: As Khodor’s arrest died down as a topic, the so-called “Orange Revolution” served as a basis for confrontation, with the last biggie being last summer’s war in the Caucasus.
    It’ll be interesting to see how the next Ukrainian presidential election goes (end of 2010). I saw a recent news blip about Kuchma considering a go at it. Regardless, one would think that Russia, Ukraine and the West will act differently this time around.

  5. Oops and yes Eugene on the time.

  6. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Igor privet!
    Thanks. BTW, you’ve ignored my previous question: are you after the WP?
    Just kidding…
    Best,
    Eugene

  7. Alex(Igor) says:

    Re; Washington Post. No. I will miss them. They should be made a part of a conservation project. Just imagine how boring the life will be if there were only pro-Russian articles around. Not to mention that this absence could complicate formulation of the Russian foreign policy.
    Cheers

  8. Sure, formulating foreign policy in any country without having an “enemy” is a tricky business. They cannot do it in the U.S. Nor in Russia, for that matter.
    Thanks guys for the great discussion.
    Cheers,
    Eugene

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Cooperation A La Carte?

As the first one-on-one meeting between Presidents Obama and Medvedev is approaching, voices of those who oppose the thaw in U.S.-Russia relations are getting louder.

While Russia’s hardliners have so far kept mum on the subject, the job of torpedoing the emerging Obama-Medvedev dialogue was taken by members of Russia's "democratic opposition."  In a bizarre testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, former presidential economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, called the collaboration between the two countries America's surrender and warned that it may lead to a "war with unpredictable and nasty results." 

Illarionov was seconded by the former chess great and now a professional street protester, Garry Kasparov, who, writing for The Wall Street Journalsuggested that "Vladimir Putin's regime is fighting for its political life" and the only outcome of the rapprochement between Washington and Moscow would be helping "the Russian autocratic regime survive."  (A brilliant detailed analysis of Kasparov's opus has been performed by Anatoly Karlin on his blog.) 

If not Kasparov's forecasting abilities, then his perseverance must be acknowledged: he has been predicting the imminent collapse of the "criminal Putin regime" for the past five or six years.

On this side of the Pond, the drive to "exit" from U.S.-Russia relations was led by those agitated by the concept of a “grand bargain”, a deal that the American president supposedly offered, in a letter, to his Russian counterpart: Russia's cooperation in stopping Iran's nuclear program in exchange for abandoning a planned U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

A number of reasons were put forward to argue that the "grand bargain” was a bad idea.  It was said, for example, that any concession to Russia would be viewed in Moscow as a sign of U.S. weakness and even desperation.  We were also reminded that “Medvedev still takes orders from Putin” and, regardless of what a deal he would be willing to strike, he may not be able to deliver.   

Please note that Obama’s letter to Medvedev wasn’t made public, and no one really knows what kind of a “bargain”, if any, was offered.  (President Obama has denied that he suggested an Iran-MDS "swap", and so has Medvedev).   But in the surreal world that the Washington politics is, chimeras often substitute reality.  Thus, 46 House Republicans sent to Obama a letter of their own condemning the alleged deal on the MDS.  In particular, the authors of the letter pointed out that any discussion of the MDS architecture without consulting U.S. allies in Europe would amount to "undertaking a surprisingly unilateral action." 

Republicans criticizing unilateralism in the U.S. foreign policy – this is priceless!

In the spur of the moment, of course, no one has bothered to ponder over whether Russia was interested in a "grand bargain” of any sort in the first place.  (I guess that when a parent of an ill-behaving child wants to punish him by withdrawing a dessert, it's automatically assumed that the child wants the dessert direly).    

In reality, the last time Russia was willing to contemplate any "bargain" with the U.S. was in 2002, when then-president Putin decided — over significant resistance from parts of Russia's political elites — to invest heavily in his good personal relations with then-president George W. Bush.  The NATO occupation of Kosovo was forgiven, as was United States' abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.  The NATO expansion into Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania was silently accepted, as was the deployment of American military bases in Central Asia.

What did Putin and his pro-American party get in return?  Attempts to further enlarge NATO into Ukraine and Georgia and plans to place elements of the MDS in Poland and the Czech Republic.  When Putin delivered his famous 2007 Munich speech, many erroneously interpreted it as a call for a new Cold War.  In fact, it was a cry of a man who felt betrayed.

Obviously, President Medvedev isn't going to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.  Early on in his presidency, he made it abundantly clear that the vectors of his foreign policy point to Europe and China, not to the United States.  Besides, as I wrote before, Medvedev's position with respect to a long-term U.S.-Russia cooperation is unknown, and early signs show little passion for a substantial Washington-Moscow dialogue. 

Although Medvedev repeatedly said that he looked forward to productively working with Obama on a number of issues, it remains to be seen whether this positive attitude is more than a clever tactical move.  The Obama administration is determined to improve U.S. relations with both China and Russia's "support group" in Europe (Germany, France, Italy, and Spain).  Russia obviously doesn't want to miss the boat by staying on the sidelines of the renewed international conversation.

As a recent meeting between U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has clearly demonstrated, there is one issue that represents the top priority for Russia: nuclear arms control.  I dare to predict that for the coming months, the renewal of the STARTtreaty will be the only serious topic the Kremlin is willing to discuss bilaterally with the White House.  The contrast can't be starker between the deal Russia is really looking for — with START's legally binding and subject to verification agreements – and the amorphous and opaque "grand bargain" that the Washington neocons are so happy to deprive Russia of.      

This is not to say that Medvedev will refuse to talk about Iran.  However, Russia's cooperation on this and other issues isn't likely to come in a "package"; rather, it will be arranged as a menu a la carte.

And as anyone familiar with the retail business knows, dishes a la carte usually come at a higher price.  

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Cooperation A La Carte?

  1. Two previous opportunities that went sour:
    1. Shortly after the failed coup against Gorbachev, Yeltsin’s Russian government openly inquires about NATO membership for Russia, as it becomes clear that the USSR is coming to an end. This Russian inquiry gets met with astonished bemusement. On the other hand, the mood was different when the Poles and others later on petitioned for such membership. Poles and Balts have legitimate security concerns unlike Russia? Russia hasn’t been a victim of foreign attack?
    2. Russian response to the 9/11 tragedy saw Russia ahead of every nation in reaching out to the US.
    ****
    Point 1 became increasingly lost with the wars in former Yugoslavia and Chechnya. Former Yugoslavia could’ve been looked at more objectively. It’s mow established that the originally stated casualty figures (propped by pro-Bosnian Muslim nationalists, in conjunction with some sensationalist Western journalism) were exaggerated. The image of Serbs as Russian surrogates became convenient propaganda. In Chechnya, the Russian government did (for the most part) nothing for a good 2-3 years, as growing lawlessness was reported in that republic. Chechnya could be reasonably spun as Russia going from one extreme (not doing anything) to suddenly taking a military option that wasn’t (especially in retrospect) well planned and caused great suffering (the last point relates to another military action that was started in 2003 and didn’t involve the territory of the nation leading the attack). Rather than attempt an objective approach, some fairly influential sources in the West provided one-sided observations against Russia.
    The cooperative spirit noted in point 2 declined in part with the arrest of Khodorkovsky, followed by increased efforts to show a more authoritarian Russia. This scenario saw instances of understating the domestic flaws in Yeltsin’s Russia – inclusive of Khodorkovsky’s culpability.
    ****
    Refer back to the earlier (in Eugene’s other commentary) matter of growing “anti-Americanism” in Russia and keep in mind some American government led policies like bombing Yugoslavia in 1999, the 2003 attack on Iraq, rhetorical support for the Georgian and Ukrainian governments.
    The mainstream Russian geopolitical point of view is at times answered with the belief that some Russian policies create a negative image of Russia. In comparison, this point can be made about US foreign policy. As previously noted, the American so-called realist school of foreign policy thinking has elements who aren’t so gung-ho on the policies mentioned in the paragraph before this one.
    Vis-a-vis Russia, the lingering biases against it play a definite role in the two mentioned instances when the US-Russian relationship declined. Make note of this the next time you might come across a neocon to neolib leaning analyst saying that Russia has elements who live too much in the past.

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    Just a quick comment. I don’t think that Khodorkovsky’s arrest by itself meant much. But it did signal the Kremlin’s desire to hold control over the oil production. That’s what, in my opinion, had really upset some folks in the US.
    Best,
    Eugene

  3. Hi back Eugene:
    Agree on Khodor, which is why I said in part.
    It has been said that the CEIP received a half million dollars from Khodor around the time of his arrest. I recall the spin from the CEIP during the period following his arrest. I also recall arround the time AL left that org, he wrote an article that was critical of how Khodor was being positively viewed. If I correctly recall, he wrote that piece just after leaving the CEIP.
    In addition to Khodor is (at least) another oligarch, who we’re aware of.
    Best,
    Mike

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    The next presidential election in Ukraine is planned for the end 2009 – beginning 2010. Not?
    Of course, Russia will behave differently because now, it sides with a sure winner🙂
    Best,
    Eugene

  5. Alex(Igor) says:

    Eugene, this one was a good work & style. (I also liked Michael’s first comment).
    Cheers
    Igor

  6. Gentlemen:
    A CSPAN aired World Affairs Council panel featuring Washington Post writers. Finn was one of the featured panelists, with Russia being one of the topics:
    http://www.c-spanarchives.org/library/index.php?main_page=product_video_info&products_id=284561-1
    The spin is what’s to be expected.
    BTW, the progressive (as in people thinking along out lines) criticism of the FSU coverage often leaves out American TV and radio (three major TV networks, PBS/NPR and cable TV news networks). This is an oversight given how a good number of Americans get their news from TV and radio.

  7. For sure, with a reminder that The Washington Post isn’t the only English language mass media source slanting in a certain direction.
    Salut!

  8. You set the tone for such discussion.
    As a follow-up to your other point:
    Ike and his reference to the “military industrial complex” comes to mind.
    On the media side, there’re the seemingly periodic instances of sensationalizing matters a bit, in an apparent effort to get a greater audience.
    Someone I know specializing in the study of a certain topic privately acknowledged that increased interest in his/her area of expertise suggests a turn for the worse – while simultaneously putting himself/herself in greater demand.

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