Responding to the Putin Doctrine
by Ethan S. Burger*
(original to La Russophobe, all rights reserved by Professor Burger)
In its Communiqué following its Emergency Summit on Georgia, the European Union took little significant action except announcing that it would “postpone” entering into a long-term partnership until Russia withdrew its troops from Georgia. While expressing its concern about Russia’s “disproportionate” use of force against its neighbor, the EU sought to maintain a dialog with Russia (or more precisely, its current leadership). It is most unfortunate that the EU leaders underestimate their countries’ long-term “soft” power.
Russia’s invasion and partial dismemberment of Georgia violates international law, even if Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilli foolishly provided the Kremlin with a pretext by seeking to assert control over South Ossetia. The Russian leadership has issued a challenge to the EU and NATO members, one that can now be characterized as “the Putin doctrine.” The West in turn must come to appreciate that the appropriate responses are not merely issuing condemnations or increasing defense spending (with the notable exceptions of that needed to combat “cyber attacks”); more creative approaches must be pursued.
The Soviet Union’s demise changed the nature of the threat emanating from Moscow, but it did not eliminate it. Only a revitalized Russian political system based on the rule of law will accomplish this task.
It is disquieting to hear Mr. Putin blame the U.S. for provoking the Georgian conflict for domestic political reasons. Reminiscent of the Soviet era, Russian anti-Semites are disingenuously claiming Israel and the U.S. has made Georgia’s tiny army a military threat to Russia, which would be extraordinary if true.
It is fool-hearty to believe that the West’s dependence on Russian energy precludes it from adopting policies other than symbolic gestures. Russia must sell its natural resources to someone, otherwise its economy weakens and its power dissipates. Russia seeks to dissuade its neighbors not to look west for support since allegedly the West lacks the will and means to protect them. Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) appear to be relevant today, but only to a limited extent.
Russia’s neighbors have the right to determine their own domestic and national security (including energy) policies. The West must adopt a flexible, imaginative and effective approach to demonstrate that Russia does not hold all the cards. Such a policy should include:
(1) adopting legislation that mirrors Russia’s new rules on foreign investment. Furthermore, the West should limit the provision of goods and services as well as the financing of activities that relate to Russian strategic sectors.
(2) dramatically increasing the West’s transmittal of news to the Russian people via the Internet, radio and satellite television to keep the Russian population informed of its government’s policies and their effect, both at home and abroad.
(3) increasing conservation and pursuing alternative energy sources. High energy prices are not a permanent feature of the world economy. If the price of oil and natural gas falls, the Russian leadership may face a revolution of rising expectations.
(4) requiring Western accountants, bankers, corporations and lawyers to perform intensive and extensive due diligence on with respect to Russian parties (and entities controlled by them), including determining whether funds involved in transactions are of legitimate origin; if illicit they may be subject to seizure and forfeiture under applicable laws.
(5) being more selective when granting Russian officials and private citizens visas. Russian officials are not accountable to the Russian public, but they cannot ignore the Russian elite’s interests. If it is more difficult for Russians of means to enter Western countries, they will find it more difficult to monitor their investments, transact business, and spend time in the countries they have come to enjoy.
(6) increasing their counter-intelligence capabilities. The (UK) Guardian reports that there are more Russian spies in London today, than at any time since the Cold War. Whether they are engaged in industrial espionage or monitoring/intimidating opponents of the Russian political leadership, their presence must be reduced.
The current confrontation between Russia and the West is a traditional geopolitical contest, one where ideology plays no role. Western political leaders must better appreciate their countries’ strengths and exploit the Russian political elite’s vulnerabilities. Whereas the Soviet Union could rely on Eastern Europe for economic, military and political support, the same cannot be said for Russia. Eventually, the West will learn how to deploy its “soft power” to obtain favorable outcomes in its dealings with Russia.
*Ethan S. Burger is Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and Scholar-in-Residence at the School of International Service of American University, both in Washington, DC.