Daily Archives: May 4, 2007

NATO Rallies to Defend Estonia

Reuters reports:

NATO accused pro-Kremlin youths of unacceptable intimidation against Estonia’s embassy in Moscow, saying on Thursday it must stop and that Russia-Estonia tensions should be defused diplomatically. Days of protests at the embassy over Estonia’s relocation of a Soviet war memorial escalated on Wednesday when demonstrators stormed a news conference shortly before the ambassador arrived and were dispersed by bodyguards spraying gas. Diplomats said the protests amounted to a blockade of the embassy of Estonia, which is a NATO and European Union member.

”NATO is deeply concerned by threats to the physical safety of Estonian diplomatic staff, including the ambassador, in Moscow, as well as intimidation at the Estonian Embassy,” the U.S.-led defence alliance said in a statement. ”These actions are unacceptable, and must be stopped immediately; tensions over the Soviet war memorial and graves in Estonia must be resolved diplomatically between the two countries.” The statement called on Russia to meet its obligations under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, which includes the requirement of the host nation to protect embassies. The NATO statement follows a sharp deteriotation in ties between the 26-nation alliance and Moscow following President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last week that he was freezing Russia’s commitments under a European arms control pact.

Russia halted deliveries of oil products to Estonia on Wednesday, a move likely to revive Western fears that the Kremlin is using its energy might as a political weapon against ex-Soviet neighbours. Moscow and Tallinn have been trading barbs since Estonia last week moved a bronze statue of a Red Army soldier — revered in Russia as a symbol of its huge sacrifices in World War Two — from its spot in the centre of the capital. Estonia said the statue was a public order menace and focus for Estonian and Russian nationalists. Many Estonians see the statue as a reminder of 50 years of Soviet rule. Germany, holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency, said on Wednesday it was deeply concerned about the row and the EU’s executive Commission said it would send a delegation to raise the matter with Moscow.

Bovt on the CFE Treaty

Writing in the Moscow Times Georgy Bovt (pictured), editor of Profil magazine, analyzes Russia’s unilateral repudiation of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty:

What mutual understanding there might have been between Russia and the West is gradually being replaced by increasing mutual irritation, suspicion and even confrontation. The two sides no longer seem to speak the same language, nor do they care much for listening to each other.

The best and most recent example of the clash between these two different systems of logic and understanding has been the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, or the CFE. Last week, in his last state-of-the-nation address, President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia was essentially suspending its participation in the CFE. He pointed out that the treaty was hammered out in 1990 between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact members, of which Russia is the only one that hasn’t since joined NATO. The treaty was modified in the late 1990s to reflect the new reality and, although Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine have ratified it, not a single NATO member has done so. This has clearly upset Moscow, as witnessed by the apparently sincere litany of complaints against the West that Putin expressed in his speech in Munich in February.

The logic behind the West’s position is the following: Moscow has yet to fulfill its commitment to remove military bases and armaments from Georgia and Moldova, and until it does so there can be no discussion of ratifying the CFE. The West sincerely views Russia’s intention to back out of the treaty with extreme suspicion since the CFE is the most effective and, in fact, the only existing instrument for controlling armaments in Europe. The desire to maintain this control has only grown along with the mutual distrust between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Statements from both sides regarding the placement of elements of anti-ballistic missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic have at times verged on the hysterical. Last week’s negotiations in Moscow between the Russian and Czech presidents on this subject apparently collapsed. Russia has not even attempted to raise the issue with Poland, with which Moscow is already locked in an angry trade dispute over meat imports. The Kremlin does not trust Western reassurances that the batteries are not directed at Russia. And the West doubts Moscow’s disbelief, suspecting it to be a cover for some kind of militaristic intrigue.

The Kremlin’s repeated and heavy-handed “reminders” to leaders of opposition groups planning anti-government protests suggests that those in power are convinced that these groups, as well as most nongovernmental organizations, are financed by the West and bent on regime change along the lines of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. While this might seem like a ruse to mask Moscow’s general dissatisfaction, and the Kremlin regularly applies the catchphrase “selling out to the West” to discredit all opposition, the situation is not that simple. This is not just a case of political posturing: People in the Kremlin really believe there are plots afoot involving secret payments to the organizers of the protests. They truly believe that all media criticism of official propaganda is part of a coordinated effort financed by outsiders. Andrei Illarionov, former economic policy adviser to Putin, has called it paranoia. It sometimes seems he is right.

And then there is the situation in Estonia, where an outburst of patriotism inspired officials to relocate a statue commemorating slain World War II Soviet soldiers from downtown Tallinn to a less centrally located military cemetery. Russian demonstrators staged a protest outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, to which Estonia responded by denying visas to the handful of Russians still interested in visiting that country. This cannot even be characterized as a relationship but only as mutual hostility.

The sad preliminary result of Russia’s last seven years of foreign policy is that Moscow is left without a single country in the world it can reasonably call a friend, ally and good partner. Even its strongest international relationships are based on dry business pragmatism. Meanwhile, the list of countries with which Russia has ruined its relations continues to grow.

If things progress further along this path, foreign policy, as well as Russia’s entire relationship with the rest of the world, could become the main theme of domestic political discussion. More accurately, it could be at the heart of future propaganda campaigns. It is unlikely, however, to lead to any serious domestic arguments with the Kremlin, as very few politicians are willing to take that kind of risk. In fact, the reluctance on the part of Russian politicians to challenge the status quo has led the Kremlin gradually to stop listening to its international opponents as well, choosing to forego constructive dialogue and compromise. When domestic politics are governed by strict orders from the top, it is difficult to switch gears to a different kind of discourse on the international stage.

Increasingly, Russians are taught to see themselves as living in a “besieged fortress,” surrounded by an unloving, oppressive world community plotting against them. That makes for a straight and fast road to international isolation, driven by a self-cultivated persecution complex. This condition has regularly accompanied periods of authoritarianism in Russian imperial and Soviet history.

The current political climate in the Kremlin suggests that First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov may be the one to get the nod as Putin’s successor, considering his credentials as former Defense Minister and his leading position among the siloviki. It will be easier for Ivanov to convince both Putin and the people of his worthiness in the context of the current campaign against the West. On the other hand, the future president’s opening stance toward the West at the start of his term one year from now may actually benefit from the worsening relations. Russia’s relations with the West may become so bad by then that something as simple as a genuine smile from the Russian president will be welcomed as a major step forward.

Indeed, Sergei Ivanov does have a charming smile, and once even blew a kiss to French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie. This is exactly the kind of gesture missing in current relations between Moscow and the West.

The Mailbag: A Reader on Estonia

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

One of La Russophobe’s oldest and most cherished readers writes the following observation on the Estonia imbroglio:

Dear LR,

Tallinn vs Katyn – Over Tallinn, the RUSSIAN people are deeply dismayed by the insult they perceive the THEIR SOVIET Red Army martyrs. Whereas over Katyn, they say that they have NOTHING to do with the actions of the GRU (essentially part of the conscripted military of the SOVIET Red Army, and refuse totally to offer any apology for the Polish genocide, saying it is nothing to do with them. On the one hand they absolutely identify themselves with the Soviet military forces, while on the other hand they totally reject any link. Am I the only one to sense gross hypocrisy here? Classic soviet era stuff.

Yours truly,

W.C.

Indeed so! Exactly this kind of thinking brought the USSR to its knees. Russians really believe, like children, that they can have their cake and eat it too. Not gonna happen.

Annals of Tennis Failure by "Dominant" Russians

The WTA is conducting a tennis event this week in Warsaw, Poland — the tiny tier II J&S Cup. More humiliation for Russia? Of course. The tournament’s number 5 seed, world #9 Russian Nadia Petrova, was eliminated in easy straight sets in her second match of the tournament by an unseeded Italian not ranked in the world’s top 30 players. Meanwhile, the WTA website ran a poll which asked: After three runner-up finishes, will Svetlana Kuznetsova win her first J&S Cup title in Warsaw? To do so, she’d have to get post the two top Belgians, Kim Clijsters (who crushed Kuzentsova in straight sets in last year’s final) and Justine Henin-Hardenne, and she needed three sets to get past her first opponent in the tournament, a lowly Ukrainian qualifier. That’s to say nothing of having to beat Venus Williams in her next match, after the unseeded Williams thrashed number 7 seed and world #13 Yelena Dementieva in easy straight sets (two of Russia’s four seeded players in the tournament failed to even reach the quarterfinals). Over 4,000 visitors have voted on the poll so far, here are the results:

After three runner-up finishes, will Svetlana Kuznetsova win her first J&S Cup title in Warsaw?

13%
Yes
87%
No

Total votes – 4042

It’s a nice little indication of what the tennis-watching world actually thinks about the quality of the so-called “dominant” Russian female tennis players.