It's been a busy month for Russian
President Vladimir Putin. First he had a visit from French President Nicolas Sarkozy on 9 October, followed by United States
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 12-13 October, who were in Moscow for talks with their Russian counterparts,
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly
Serdyukov. He then squeezed in a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas prior to departing to Wiesbaden to meet
with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Then he set off to Tehran to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
despite reports that suicide terrorists had been trained to assassinate him in Iran.
As the dust settles on the shiny new dynamo in the Elys�e Palace, Sarkozy is beginning to look
like a bit of a goof. He is widely compared to Monsieur Jourdain of Moliere's Le
Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a
comically vulgar, social-climbing figure who can never attain the veneer of
nobility he seeks. It's not just
his clownish, sad-sack grin, his bluster and his frantic, pointless
globe-trotting, but his continued loud protestations of friendship with the US
administration for which he gets absolutely nothing in return. He twice
proclaimed himself to Putin as a
ally of the United States,"
earlier described Russia as "a country which complicates the
resolution of the world's greatest
problems." God forbid
that we live to see Sarkozy's
resolution of these problems. No doubt it would include reducing Iran to smoking ashes.
After meeting with Putin, he rushed off to visit Chechnya human rights activists. One can only marvel at
his chutzpah, or his stupidity. Putin was not amused and coolly told Sarkozy to
tell his "clear ally" to forget about independence for
Kosovo and that there was no evidence that Iran
was intent on producing a nuclear bomb.
Putin is a busy man and all these pointless meetings clearly
disrupted his schedule. He kept Rice and Gates waiting 40 minutes at his
private dacha while Lavrov entertained US reporters about possible
breakthroughs at the talks.
definitely. Through or down, I don't know."
Putin swept in and proceeded to lecture his guests on the crimes
of their boss. Rice scowled as she scribbled away in her notebook, while Gates
remained impassive. No doubt he was recalling gleefully how, as a CIA adviser
under President Carter, he organised and armed Al-Qaeda
and their friends in Afghanistan and helped bring
down the Soviet Union. He reiterated his
invitation for Russia to join NATO as a full partner in a brand-new Joint Regional
Missile Defence Architecture, complete with invitations for Russian and
American officers to be stationed at each other's missile defence sites. "We remain eager to be full and open partners with Russia on missile defence," he crooned. Like their "clear ally,"
also met with human rights activists.
And just what did the whirlwind of diplomacy accomplish?
As for the Americans'
rights activities, Tanya Lokshina, director of Demos, said that given the focus
on security matters, the meeting with rights campaigners was mostly symbolic.
She complained that the US had
the high moral ground. The American voice alone doesn't work anymore. The Russians are not
influenced by it." According
to her, Rice bristled at the criticism, replying sharply, "We never lost the high moral ground." Ouch.
Kosovo is threatening to declare
independence from Serbia on 10 December over
strenuous objections. Russia has hinted it could
retaliate by pressuring the pro-US government of Georgia
through its relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that broke
away from Georgia with Russian military help. No change.
Putin reiterated both his threat to quit
the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe accord by
12 December if the US goes forward with its missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic,
and his offer of an old Soviet radar facility in Azerbaijan
if the US backs down. Gates thanked Putin for his offer of the base, but said
this couldn't possibly
replace but only supplement the one in the Czech
Republic. How clever: let's station
the CIA and US military in Azerbaijan as well as
in Eastern Europe. Gates said on his scout's honour there is absolutely no intention of targeting Russia's 4,162 nuclear warheads from these new
bases close to Russia's
boarders. Lavrov was not impressed and warned that Moscow
would be forced to take measures to
"neutralise" the shield if it is built as
planned. So no change there either.
Just as President George W. Bush
has become famous for his malapropisms, Putin has become known for cutting
through the diplo-speak with sharp sarcasm. He described the American
antimissile bases as a reaction to a threat that had not yet materialised: "Both of us, one day, may decide that
an antimissile defence system can be deployed on the moon. But before we get
there, the possibility of reaching an agreement may be lost because you will
have implemented your own plans."
smoothly added, "But our
American partners' constructive disposition on continuing the dialogue is, of
course, a very positive signal."
Putin has already said that Russia
would target its nuclear arsenal at Europe for
the first time since the Cold War if the "shield" is not
moved. In order to hit Europe, Russia could move its short-range missiles to Kaliningrad. But it is hampered by the 1987
Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. The Kremlin
is unhappy about the treaty because of the growing mid-range nuclear arsenals
of its immediate neighbours, China, Pakistan and India. The
treaty currently only applies to the US, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It
was highly disadvantageous to the Soviet Union as
it did not include US naval nuclear cruise missiles or the nuclear arsenals of Britain or France.
Analysts say that Russia's
withdrawal from the INF treaty is all but inevitable. So, some change here. US
foolhardiness means a historic peace treaty is being thrown in history's rubbish bin.
Rice and Gates also raised the issue of ways to extend limits on
nuclear weapons when the existing nuclear arms proliferation treaty expires in
2009. That no doubt provoked a chuckle in the Kremlin.
Concerning upping US/EU sanctions against Iran, Lavrov said, "We believe collective work would be
much more effective if there were no parallel steps to use unilateral sanctions
against Iran, let alone recurring calls to use
force against Iran." Rice fired back, saying the United States would continue to
impose financial sanctions on Tehran for funding "terrorist activities." Under US pressure, European trade to
Iran has fallen sharply by up to 40 percent this year. No change,
at least not for the better.
As for the meeting with Merkel, it merely emphasised that Ostpolitik
is dead. "Germany used to be an active mediator between Russia and the West," says Alexander Rahr, director of Russian policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations. "Merkel is now just a passive player,
and this means there is no European strategy toward Russia." Putin's summit with Merkel was probably the last before March
presidential elections in Russia. Since taking
office nearly two years ago, Merkel has gone out of her way to placate Poland and the Baltic states, and has made
confrontation with Putin on human rights the centrepiece of her politics,
unlike former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who focussed on economic relations and apparently developed
a genuine friendship with Putin. He was recently feted in Moscow,
launching the Russian edition of his memoirs.
The irony in this obsession with "human rights"
that real human rights have never been more scrupulously observed in Russia's entire history than they are today,
exposing the hypocrisy of this ruse to return Russia
to its traditional role as the West's enemy.
No doubt Putin, in Tehran this
week for a regional conference on Caspian oil, commiserated with Ahmadinejad
about this. Incidentally, this is the first trip by a Kremlin leader to Teheran since 1943, when Joseph
Stalin met British Prime Minister Winston
Churchill, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
and, presumably, the Iranian head of state, Mohamed Reza Shah, son of the
exiled Reza Shah. The allies had brusquely overthrown their puppet monarch in
1941 as a suspected Nazi sympathiser in favour of his more staunchly
pro-American son, who reigned as a faithful friend of the US until the Islamic
Revolution in 1979, the symbolism of which no doubt is not lost to Ahmadinejad.
Of course, the answer to any unresolved issues between the US
and Iran, as recognised by rational people of all
political persuasions (which seems to exclude current Western leaders), is
direct US talks with the Iranians. This would not only weaken Russian influence
(surely a logical US policy goal), but give a real boost to the supposedly
pro-American Iranian people (surely another logical US policy goal) suffering
under their supposed dictatorship, who now can only be accused of being
Sadly, these visits are really just schoolyard games, where the
bullies taunt and threaten the aloof new boy on the Free World block, clearly
planning to gang up on him when no one's looking and possibly throw some Free World projectiles at him.
But the composed Vlad merely spits in their faces and continues to practise his
judo chops, ready for all comers.
Not to be entirely left out, Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko announced he was closing ranks
with his big brother, that Russia is still
friend despite a quarrel over energy prices earlier this year. The Belarussian
leader now fancies himself as peacemaker, both apologising for his angry
outbursts against Moscow and calling for improved
relations with Western countries. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man
is still king.
Walberg is a Canadian journalist who worked in Uzbekistan
and is now writing for Al-Ahram
Weekly in Cairo. You can reach
him at his site geocities.com/walberg2002.