The Atlantists are on the ascendant these days in Moscow.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev�s hamburger lunch with United States President Barack Obama
during his visit to Silicon Valley last month apparently left a pleasant taste
in his mouth.
Now relations with NATO are on the mend, as Russia plans to
send 27 Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan, NATO Military Committee Chairman
Giampaolo di Paola said after a meeting with Chief of Staff of the Russian
Armed Forces Nikolai Makarov last Friday. Rosoboronexport has even offered to
throw in the first three helicopters for free.
Makarov went further, telling di Paola that Russia was now
ready to work with NATO �to pool efforts to find solutions to contemporary
challenges and threats to international security.� Di Paola welcomed the
Russian general�s offer, assuring him that NATO views Moscow as a �strong
strategic partner, not as a threat or an enemy.� He spoke vaguely about new members
having to �meet NATO standards,� avoiding the U(kraine) and G(eorgia) words
during their press conference. Russian and NATO experts will draft a joint
action plan for 2011 within the next few months, he said.
Russian NATO Ambassadoor Dmitri Rogozin recently boasted
that �Russian helicopters will ideally fit Afghan conditions: they are easy to
operate, reliable, efficient and known by Afghan pilots.� He offered to train
Afghan pilots in addition to the Afghan police Russia is now helping
train. Makarov even offered �consultancy in military and combat training based
on our Afghan experience, including our mistakes.� The deal is estimated at
$300m though Rogozin hinted that a discount beyond the three free copters was
possible and that Russia could kick in another 19 in 2012. So, if I understand
this correctly, Russia�s Afghan communist allies from the days of Soviet occupation are now going to man the same old Russian
helicopters to kill yet more Afghan patriots, the only difference being the
language the occupiers speak and their capitalist pedigree.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is also feeling the chilly wind of Russia-US
detente these days. The Russian state-owned NTV, watched by millions of
Belorussians, broadcast a scathing two-part documentary �The Belarusian
Godfather� last week as the Kremlin was hosting leading Belarusian opposition
figures, in a campaign to unseat their troublesome ally in the presidential
elections next February. The Russian ire peaked last month over unpaid gas
bills, disagreements over the proposed new customs union with Kazakhstan, and
Lukashenko�s refusal to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as it, like
Russia, seeks to curry favour in Brussels. Upping the ante, a sympathetic
interview with Russian nemesis Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was
broadcast on Belarusian TV and Lukashenko is currently hosting deposed Kyrgyz
president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Bakiyev�s overthrow was approved if not abetted by
Moscow, and the comparison of Lukashenko and Bakiyev in �The Godfather-II� is a
stark warning to Lukashenko that his days are numbered.
What accounts for this sudden effusion of East-West
friendship, after years of complaining about NATO encirclement and missile
bases in Poland?
Obama�s more accommodating tone and NATO�s pause in its
eastward march has clearly mollified the Russians. It also looks like
disagreements over Ukrainian and Georgian membership in NATO and South Ossetian
and Abkhazian independence are all on the backburner now as the US sinks deeper
and deeper into its Afghan quagmire. Russia backs the losing war there because
it is very worried about the prospects of a Taliban victory. Better a pro-US
dictatorship than another Islamic neighbour. Besides, the helicopter deal (and
who knows what else?) will replace its $1 billion loss on Iranian missile sales.
But Afghanistan is not Belarus, and rather than moving
forward and trying to reach an accommodation with Afghanistan�s popular
resistance movement, Russia is ignoring the lesson it learned with such pain
two decades ago, gambling that the US can produce a miracle where it failed. It
is also gambling that the US and NATO are too preoccupied -- and grateful to a
newly nice Russia -- to try to pull off another colour revolution in Belarus,
where Russia is counting on a largely pro-Russian nation finding a replacement
to Lukashenko who will not cause the headaches that he, the orange, rose and
tulip revolutionaries have caused.
Whatever happens in Afghanistan and Belarus, Medvedev�s two
greatest wishes now are to get SALT through the US Senate and to pave the way
for Russia to join Europe. To clinch this westward reorientation, there are now
signs that Russia will do the unthinkable: work with the US on missile defence.
In a New York Times op-ed, ex-Russian foreign
minister Igor Ivanov and ex-German US ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger,
co-chairmen of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative Commission, joined former
Senator Sam Nunn in calling for �North America, Europe and Russia to make
defence of the entire Euro-Atlantic region against potential ballistic missile
attack a joint priority.� They propose the creation of a �more inclusive and
better-defended Euro-Atlantic community . . . what national leaders in their
moment of hope at the Cold War�s close spoke of as a �Europe from the Atlantic
to the Urals whole and free for the first time in 300 years.��
Acceding to US plans for missile defence will kill Medvedev�s
two birds with one stone. The NYT op=ed panders to Russian self-image by
calling for the US, EU and Russia to �undertake as equal parties to design from
the ground up a common architecture to deal with the threat.� It soothingly
assures us that a joint Star Wars will �aid progress in bolstering the nuclear
nonproliferation regime.� Left out of the equation is the glaring fact that a
world encircled by hair-trigger missiles is more likely to be a trigger for war
than peace, that the whole point of Star Wars is to create facts-on-the-ground
for the US empire, which will allow it to dictate just what kind of world order
is acceptable. As for boosting the NPT, the only way to discourage countries
from emulating the nuclear powers is for them to give up their deadly weapons
and stop threatening the world with them.
It is naive of Russia to think it will be able to veto, say,
a war on Iran or some other �offender� of what the US deems to be okay, or that
countries threatened by US invasion will stop trying to acquire weapons that
will make the US think twice.
This new accommodating Russia is very much in the US global
interest and Obama is sure to keep courting Medvedev, despite attempts by Cold
Warriors to undermine the budding friendship, as witnessed in the mock spy
scandal last month. Given the new westerly wind blowing out of the Kremlin,
geopolitical logic could mean an end to Brzezinski-like plans to encircle
Russia. Much better to leave the problems of a remote Kyrgyzstan to a friend. Let it deal
with complex ethnic and economic problems which Americans can�t hope to
understand or solve, using a Russian (NATO?) military base as the occasion
demands rather than maintaining an unpopular US one. Ukraine? Georgia? Bela-who? Afghanistan is what�s important, if it
can be secured in the Western fold, with Russia in tow. And Star Wars.
The goal of Obama�s imperial team is to rally Russia to the
US (oops, I mean NATO) flag and push on. Ivanov et al explain that if all goes
well, soon along with China, we �can explore cooperation on the role and place
of missile defense in a multipolar nuclear world.� It looks like Medvedev has
opted for US empire even as it implodes. Will Hu get the hint?
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at ericwalberg.com.