Daily Archives: June 19, 2007

NATO, Holding Firm

Writing in the Eurasia Daily Monitor, the brilliant Vladimir Socor relates the good news that NATO is holding firm on Russia:

The “Extraordinary Conference of the State-Parties to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe” (CFE) can become a textbook case of Russian bluster, threats, and trade-offs proffered at third parties’ expense, all followed by retreat when faced with a united NATO position. Held on June 11-15 in Vienna at Russia’s initiative, the Conference ended without agreement on any of Russia’s demands, each of which challenged in one way or another the post-Soviet status quo in Europe (see EDM, May 25, June 8, 11, 13, 14) and without deciding on a possible follow-up.

Russia ended up isolated and defeated in this forum — a fact that NATO allies tactfully refrained from noting publicly on the morrow of the conference, in the expectation of a continuing dialogue with Moscow. For its part, Russia abruptly toned down its rhetoric when faced with this outcome (Itar-Tass, RIA-Novosti, June 15, 16), apparently realizing that the Kremlin’s bluff had been called.

President Vladimir Putin had threatened on April 26 to suspend unilaterally Russia’s compliance with the CFE Treaty (the 1990 original and the 1999 unratified adaptation) unless the treaty was changed in Russia’s favor and further concessions were made to Russia on the balance of forces beyond the treaty itself. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov (defense minister until recently and Putin’s heir apparent at the moment) followed up during May and early June with similar threats of a “moratorium” on Russia’s compliance. Russia would, in that case, unilaterally withdraw from the CFE Treaty’s system of mutual verification and inspections of forces, exchanges of information, and pre-notification of military movements.

During the Vienna Conference, Russia demanded ratification of the 1999-adapted CFE Treaty by NATO countries by an arbitrary deadline (July 1, 2008) as a maneuver for bringing the three Baltic states — and hypothetical allied force deployments there — under treaty restrictions. At the same time, Russia sought a comprehensive re-writing of the treaty’s terms to Russia’s unilateral advantage, under threats to scuttle the treaty altogether, with the prospect of augmenting Russian forces in certain border areas.

Moreover, Putin and the Russian government challenged NATO on a host of international security issues other than the CFE Treaty, at the same time and in the same threatening style: Strategic missile defense, medium-range missiles in Europe, U.S. military installations in Romania and Bulgaria, and the status of Kosovo. Apparently, Moscow attempted to mix all these issues into one large deck of cards, hoping for possible trade-offs. As the Kremlin-affiliated consultant Vyacheslav Nikonov noted, Russia might obtain a net gain on at least one issue through this tactic (RIA-Novosti, June 11).

Russia’s most urgent demand was a de-coupling of NATO countries’ ratification of the 1999 CFE Treaty from Russian fulfillment of the 1999 Istanbul Commitments to withdraw the troops from Georgia and Moldova. While about to fulfill most of those commitments in Georgia, Russia refuses outright to do so in Moldova and sought a trade-off with NATO at Moldova’s expense. Thus, the outcome of the Conference turned on the issue of Russian troops in Moldova, with NATO as well as Moldova rejecting a trade-off. Some German diplomats sought to reinterpret the Istanbul Commitments in Russia’s favor but did not go as far as to break the Western consensus. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried’s remark outside the closed-door Conference — “We shall keep faith both with our principles and with countries like Georgia and Moldova” (State Department transcript, June 12) — signaled that the United States and allies are handling the issue of Moldova as an important interest, not as a bargaining card.

In the closing hours of the Conference on June 15, separate but convergent statements by NATO collectively, Moldova, and Georgia reaffirmed the shared positions that ratification of the CFE treaty is conditional on Russia’s complete military withdrawal from Moldova and internationally certified closure of the Gudauta base in Georgia. For its part, Russia tried to pose as a bloc leader by producing a supportive statement from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which consists of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Of these countries, the latter three are not parties to the CFE Treaty, while signatory Armenia violates the treaty by concentrating treaty-limited, Russian-delivered combat hardware on the territory of Azerbaijan.

On the morrow of the Conference, official Russian reactions are parsimonious and relatively subdued, falling back on a process of negotiations and watering down the “moratorium” threat. Contrasting with the official declarations’ drumbeat in the run-up to the conference, Russian media coverage after the conference is also minimal.

According to Russia’s chief delegate, Anatoly Antonov (AP, International Herald Tribune, June 15-17), “If no further results are achieved, then a moratorium could become more of a possibility. We want to see some serious talking take place. This Conference was neither a tragedy nor the end of the story.” Nevertheless, Russia’s position as summarized by Antonov in the wake of the forum remains that the 1999 CFE Treaty has “become meaningless, is no longer viable” and that Russia wants to “re-establish the treaty’s viability” — some of the code-words for re-writing the treaty in Russia’s favor. Pending this, Moscow’s declared first-priority goals remain that NATO countries ratify the treaty by July 2008 while Russian troops remain in Moldova and that the three Baltic states sign the ratified treaty (Itar-Tass, RIA-Novosti, June 15, 16).

The threats as well as the trade-off tactics failed demonstrably at the Vienna Conference. Nevertheless, Moscow may persist with its trade-off tactics in upcoming negotiations, including Putin’s informal meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at Kennebunkport, Maine, where Putin can undoubtedly add the issues of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to his deck of bargaining cards.

Annals of Neo-Soviet Failure

Foreign Policy magazine has announced its 2007 “failed states index” and, interestingly, Russia has actually made a bit of progress — even though its overall outlook remains horrifyingly bleak. With a score of 81.1 (120 is as bad as a country could get), Russia is the 62nd biggest failure out of 177 nations surveyed, a bigger failure than China, Venezueala or Cuba and sandwiched between Lesotho and Azerbaijan. However, both Russia’s score and its ranking were improvements on last year’s data, when Russia’s ranking was 43 and its score was 87.1. Russia’s ranking is now roughly back where it was on the 2005 study, mired in the middle of the “warning” states that could lapse into failure at any time. The prognosis for Russia is states as follows:

While some progress has been made on the economic front, Putin has re-centralized power around himself in recent years and democratic institutions remain weak. Russia has severely disabled the Chechen rebel movement, although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the North Caucasus. Without addressing corruption, it will be difficult to build democratic institutions, but plenty of Russians appear content to make this a second-tier priority. Russia is playing a renewed assertive role in the world, although its continuing economic stratification is a potential source of future internal conflict. The police forces suffer from massive corruption, and have been accused of some abuses. The Federal Security Services of the Russian Federation are responsible for internal security such as the fight against organized crime (which is extremely prevalent) and terrorism. The organization has been accused, however, of suppressing internal dissent, surveilling individuals, and influencing important political events, as the KGB did in the USSR. Security forces are reported to regularly single out individuals from the Caucasus for document checks, detention, and the extortion of bribes. Detainees were often beaten or tortured. Russia, instead, suffers from a severe population decline, due to disease—including AIDS—and poor health care after the collapse of the more equitable Soviet health care system. Deaths outnumber births, and most of those who die are in the 20-49 year age group, the most productive segment of the population. This may have a devastating impact on the workforce. Russia received high scores for group grievance, mainly because of an ongoing nationalist-separatist conflict in Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim area in the north Caucasus.

These results are a sign that the increasing pressure being brought to bear on the Kremlin regime may be bearing some fruit. At least, it seems that the Kremlin is being a bit more careful about how thuggish and barbaric it appears to the world, but it also highlights the need to avoid being fooled by neo-Soviet propaganda, which will only increase as the Kremlin consolidates its grip on power.

The results also make it utterly impossible to support the argument that Russia belongs in the G-8. China’s score is higher, but China isn’t in the G-8. India’s score is far higher, but India isn’t in the G-8 either. A borderline failed state can’t be a reliable partner for the G-8 democracies, none of which are classified as “warning” states the way Russia is.

The Russian Quagmire

Here’s the essence of the Russian quagmire: Russia ranks #71 in the world per capita income, yet Moscow ranks #1 in the world in cost of living. 70 of the world’s countries are better-positioned to sustain life in Moscow than the place where it actually is located. Britain, which has the #2 most expensive city, has the #12 per capita income. And that’s not even the worst of it, because Britain does a far better job of spreading GDP as salary than Russia does, where oligarchs and an oligarchical state gobble up most of the proceeds, leaving the impoverished population with even less than superficially appears.

One-Eyed Russia

It is often said that “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” It seems that Russia has adopted this maxim, and given up the idea of ever being a full-fledged member of the advanced “first world” community of nations. Instead, its goal is to be the leader of the bannana republics. The Telegraph reports:

Never one to mince words, Vladimir Putin last week attacked the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. At a ritzy business summit in St Petersburg – the biggest since communism collapsed – the Russian President dismissed the Western-dominated multilateral bodies, set up 50 years ago, as “archaic, awkward and undemocratic”. By urging developing countries to consider new forums for economic cooperation – independent of America, the EU and Japan – Putin tapped into deep seams of resentment, built up over generations, in capital cities from Bogota to Beijing.

The ex-KGB judo champion, as ever, picked his moment well. The World Bank is reeling, with the White House refusing even to consider that a non-American might for once be chosen as boss, after Bush groupie Paul Wolfowitz was forced to resign. The IMF, too, has lost its way – being attacked by Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-Prize winning US economist, as “appalling” and “the cause of great economic damage”. Until recently, developing countries secured serious inward investment only if the IMF, hands firmly on the policy levers, gave a thumbs-up to the outside world.

No longer. And by making that point in St Petersburg – surrounded by thousands of salivating foreign business types who don’t care what the IMF says – Putin’s words rang true. But Russia’s jibe at the WTO was, strategically, most damaging. The Doha trade talks, launched as the “development round” in 2001, are now in cold storage. The huge trade-driven “emerging giants” – the likes of Brazil, India and China – are furious that a deal hasn’t been done. Having bought into the WTO, these countries would benefit handsomely from a co-ordinated lowering of trade barriers.

Such nations, insisting on more access to Western markets and lower farm subsidies, blame the EU and US for refusing to give ground. And they’re right. Pascal Lamy, the WTO chief and a former EU trade commissioner, admits some of the trade rules are “remnants of colonialism” that “disfavour the developing world”. So what is Putin up to? Well, after 10 years of haggling, Russia still hasn’t been granted WTO membership. Despite backing America’s “War on Terror”, Moscow’s application continues to be blocked by the West. At the recent G8 summit, Moscow’s efforts to join were spurned once again.

I’d venture that Russia has now given up on WTO membership. In St Petersburg, Putin was calling on the entire developing world to spurn multilateralism, insisting that the institutions concerned exist only to protect the interests of a few rich Western nations. That message will resonate with WTO members everywhere who are sick and tired that the Doha round has turned out just like all the other post-war trade talks – with the usual suspects calling the shots. In that sense, Putin’s speech could be a turning point in history – marking the end of multilateralism, a half-century experiment wrecked by bull-headed Western politicians. We could, in fact, be on the brink of a return to the historic norm of global economic regionalism, with all the conflict that brings.