Monday, October 5, 2009
Prague's central Wenceslas Square is crammed with stores, cafes, and tourists from around the world. It's hard to imagine today how different the atmosphere here was before the Iron Curtain fell 20 years ago.
But although the Czech Republic may now be part of the European Union and NATO, Czechs are still nervous about Prague's huge neighbor to the east.
Misha Prochazkova, a fortysomething Prague resident, says that's despite the fact that Moscow no longer wields the power it did during the Cold War.
"I think it is a threat, even if not to the same degree as 20 years ago," she says.
It's no longer Red Army tanks that people worry about, but Moscow's control over vast supplies of oil and natural gas that have fueled Moscow's resurgence in the world. In January, Russia cut off gas to Ukraine during a price dispute that disrupted deliveries to many European countries. Millions were left without heat during record freezing temperatures.
It was a stark reminder of just how much Europe depends on Russian energy. Moscow supplies Europe with one-quarter of its gas. Some Eastern European countries rely on Soviet-era pipelines to deliver more than 90 percent of their supplies. Moscow is planning two new pipelines that would make Europe even more dependent on Russia.
Harvard University's Marshall Goldman says that as European countries rely less and less on their own coal supplies to meet their growing needs, energy is becoming an even more effective tool for foreign policy than nuclear weapons were during the Cold War.
"Those were almost useless," Goldman says, "because if Russia were to use them, the United States would have retaliated and some of the Europeans as well. If Russia today cuts off or threatens to cut off energy supplies, there's nothing anybody can do to offset that."
Many believe January's shutoff to Ukraine, the second in three years, was really punishment for Kyiv's drive to join NATO. Moscow's cutoff was the latest in a series of aggressive actions against former Soviet republics, including last summer's invasion of Georgia, which brought relations with the West to Cold War lows.
In Washington, the Kremlin is believed to view relations as a "zero-sum game," in which what's good for one country is seen as bad for the other. It's an outlook U.S. President Barack Obama wants to undermine by engaging Moscow on issues of common concern.
The Czech minister for European affairs, Stefan Fule -- whose country held the EU presidency during January's gas crisis -- says he supports Obama's policy as the best way to deal with Moscow.
"I don't have any reason to doubt that we need a new effort to engage Russia," Fule says, "not because we are glad and we understand or even agree with what the Russians are doing in Russia itself and the close neighborhood, but because we do not agree, we need to engage them."
When then Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek shuttled between Moscow and Kyiv in a desperate bid to resolve the gas standoff with Ukraine last January, however, his efforts were hampered by widespread disagreement in Europe over how to deal with Russia. Former Soviet bloc countries have issued loud warnings about the danger from Russia. But countries in Western Europe have been far less willing to criticize Moscow.
Political expert Kirill Rogov says that doesn't bode well for Washington's new Russia policy, which he says can only succeed with unified European support.
"There's no question about that because otherwise, opportunities for the United States will be very limited," he says. "That's because Europe is Russia's main trading partner while the United States is a more abstract interlocutor."
Russia has been working to undermine European unity by cultivating bilateral relations with individual countries, often through lucrative deals between state gas monopoly Gazprom and energy companies across Western Europe. Among them, Germany's E.ON Ruhrgas is helping build a new pipeline directly to Germany bypassing transit countries such as Ukraine. The North Stream pipeline consortium is headed by none other than former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who took the job only weeks after he left office.
Analysts say Gazprom has been successful in persuading countries like Germany to consider their own national interests ahead of a unified European strategy by enlisting their energy companies to act as lobbyists for Russian interests.
The strategy reinforces Moscow's view of European consensus as a threat.
"If they want to be unified, God bless them," says Viktor Kremenyuk of Moscow's U.S.A. and Canada Institute. "If they want to work out something like a unified policy toward Russia, it's their problem, not our problem. Our problem is to see, 'Is that something friendly?'"
Berlin's policy toward Moscow has been among the friendliest. Last November, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel led opposition to the Bush administration's campaign to put Georgia and Ukraine on a path to NATO membership. At the same time, Germany blocked proposed EU regulations that would have restricted foreign companies from buying European energy utilities, a policy aimed at slowing Gazprom's drive to buy up companies in Western Europe.
Still, there are signs Moscow's recent actions are encouraging a gradual change in European attitudes. Russia's gas shutoff to Ukraine prompted new calls to diversify energy supplies, partly by backing an alternate gas-pipeline project called Nabucco that would deliver supplies from Central Asia bypassing Russia. Last March, the EU infuriated Moscow by promising Kyiv $3.5 billion to modernize its gas pipeline network in a bid to avoid another shutoff.
Czech European Affairs Minister Fule says he sees a developing trans-Atlantic consensus on Russia.
"There is a huge responsibility of the European allies of the United States within NATO and the European Union itself," he says. "And I think that in general the European Union and the European allies of the United States are keen [on] working in favor of eliminating this zero-sum-game approach which prevails in Russia."
But others believe a real consensus on Russia will develop only if people in London and Paris feel as threatened by Russia as some Czechs do on the streets of Prague.
Russia has only a limited window of opportunity within which it can hope to achieve its maximum objectives in Ukraine, while Ukraine has only a limited number of options for developing its relations with the Russian Federation in such a way as to ensure its survival as an independent state, according to two leading Kyiv-based specialists on international relations.
The current issue of "Zerkalo nedeli" includes a 4,100-word discussion by academician Volodymyr Horbulin, director of the Kyiv Institute of Problems of National Security, and Oleksandr Lytvynenko, his adviser, of the security trap in which Russia and Ukraine find themselves.
The two analysts argue that Russia's domestic problems, including demographic decline, ethnic and religious challenges, and regional separatism (both ethnic and non-ethnic) have been compounded by its return to authoritarianism and by the impact of the global economic crisis. Those cumulative pressures, they write, are forcing Moscow to "concentrate on the resolution of questions of a primarily regional nature that it can't put off any longer."
'Subjagation Of Ukraine'
"The subjugation of Ukraine must be considered [Russia's] most crucial foreign policy objective," Horbulin and Lytvynenko write, noting that by means of "the subordination of Ukraine, or at least its southeastern part, the Kremlin [could] essentially improve the situation in the Russian Federation."
Ukraine's leaders must deliver on their repeated promises to protect citizens' constitutional rights and freedoms.
Doing so would, they predict, reduce Russia's demographic problems, guarantee the reliable transportation of oil and gas to Europe, significantly increase its economic potential in machine building (including in the defense sector) and in agriculture, make it impossible for the United States to use Ukraine as a military base, and neutralize a potential ideological threat to its authoritarian regime.
Those considerations, they continue, demonstrate that "the aggressive policy of the Kremlin with regard to Ukraine is the result not of Kyiv's actions, but of Russia's needs as the current leadership of that state understands them." For that reason, a shift in Ukrainian policy "will not lead to a significant revision of Russian policy."
At the same time, Horbulin and Lytvynenko argue, the Kremlin recognizes "that the historical 'window of opportunity' relative to Ukraine...is quite short and may close as early as 2015, by which time a new generation of Ukrainian elites" will have emerged and the West may have changed its approach either to Moscow or to Kyiv, or both. All these considerations suggest, the two Ukrainian security analysts argue, that Russia will launch a "decisive and pitiless" campaign against Ukraine in the very near future.
Horbulin and Lytvynenko then examine in greater detail Russian policy toward Ukraine and possible Ukrainian responses. With respect to the former, they make five points. First, Russia has repeatedly made clear that it recognizes the borders of Ukraine, but nonetheless demands that Ukraine defer to Russia on such issues as possible membership in NATO.
Second, "both legally and ideologically and in institutional terms" Russia today is the direct successor of the USSR and has inherited the latter's "institutional memory" with regard to "mechanisms for developing and taking decisions," in the first instance those involving "strategic" questions. Because of that continuity, they write, it is very likely the Kremlin has not developed "a precise, clearly formulated program of actions with regard to Ukraine," but rather is being guided by the need to determine "the main tasks, directions, and arsenal of instruments to be used."
Third, this lack of a specific plan does not mean that Moscow has not decided on its long-term "strategic vision" of relations with Ukraine. In fact, it did so at the December 25, 2008, meeting of the Russian Security Council and State Council of the Russian Federation. That vision, subsequently made public by State Duma Deputy Konstantin Zatulin in May, amounts to "an ultimatum" whereby respect by Russia for Ukraine's territorial integrity is contingent on Kyiv agreeing to "special relations" with the Russian Federation -- in effect, to a Russian protectorate over a weakened Ukraine.
Fourth, in the course of "almost 20 years of relations with independent Ukraine," the Kremlin has become "convinced" of the effectiveness of using "so-called pro-Russian elites" to advance its cause in Ukraine, and that a Russian protectorate will ultimately lead to "the territorial division of Ukraine into three parts," part of which will be subsumed into Russia.
And fifth, the Russian political elite is divided as to how best and how quickly to achieve these goals, with the "hawks" arguing that more pressure sooner is the best approach, while the "doves" favor less pressure over a longer time period. In recent months, because of economic problems, the hawks have gained the upper hand.
'Application Of Direct Force'
Moscow is using its security services to promote its goals in Ukraine, the two analysts say. But if these services are unable to achieve Moscow's goals, and if the January 2010 presidential elections in Ukraine do not yield the result Russia wants, "one cannot completely exclude the application of direct force."
Horbulin and Lytvynenko argue that in face of this Russian policy, which places at risk "the very survival of the Ukrainian state in its current borders," Kyiv must immediately adopt a number of "complex measures" encompassing both democratization and a new approach to its foreign partners.
Above all, they argue, Ukraine's leaders must deliver on their repeated promises to protect citizens' constitutional rights and freedoms and must "establish political stability on the basis of elite and social consensus regarding a European path of development." That will necessitate adopting a new constitution that defines Ukraine as either a presidential or a parliamentary republic, rather than trying to combine the two; the reduction of corruption in the bureaucracy; reform of the armed services; developing effective intelligence and counterintelligence services; and better articulation of Ukraine's goals.
In foreign affairs, the two analysts suggest, Ukraine must continue on its "strategic course" toward membership of NATO and the European community, but should show far more "tactical flexibility" in doing so, which would enable it to "accentuate" positive aspects of its ties with Russia as well.
The analysts argue Ukraine should be willing to consider the demilitarization of the Black Sea.
Such ties cannot be developed in isolation. Instead, Ukraine must use "the possibilities offered by international organizations" like the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the UN, and the Council of Europe. Kyiv must be willing to think outside the box by considering such possibilities as declaring the Black Sea a demilitarized zone.
In its relations with the United States, Kyiv should shift "the accent from the public and the official to the working level, above all in the sphere of security," and in ties with the EU, it should move from declarations to taking albeit limited practical steps. And Ukraine should, Horbulin and Lytvynenko argue, "expand its dialogue with China, [again] in the sphere of security, by making use of the fact that China became the first state guarantor of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and confirmed this guarantee in 2006."
Even if such policies cannot lower tensions between Ukraine and Russia, the analysts conclude, they could at least gradually "limit the risk of conflict between them, and also minimize the potential damage to Ukraine's national interests." Perhaps more to the point, such actions will help those in Russia who want to organize their country "on the principles of freedom."
During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union each explored the possibility of using nuclear explosions for "peaceful" purposes.
Their programs yielded little real benefit, but left behind radioactive footprints and trails of contamination from the nearly 150 tests from the projects -- "Plowshare" in the United States and, more cryptically, "Program No. 7" in the Soviet Union.
Decades later, in one corner of the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, residents near one of those former test sites say authorities are ignoring their complaints about serious health effects.
The Soviet experiment near the village of Sarzhal, meant to study the feasibility of creating water reservoirs, created a 430-meter wide crater that formed a lake.
Villagers say the area is still radioactive. They say the water from what they call the "atomic lake" contaminates the ground water they need to survive.
Residents believe radioactivity in the lake's water has caused heart problems, high blood pressure, and birth defects.
"Nobody cares about us," Sarzhal resident Kayrash Madenov tells RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. "I think there's no such place as the village of Sarzhal on the map. We became the part of the dead testing site. Authorities probably think that there's no life here."
Madenov says authorities have ignored locals' concerns.
Program No. 7
The Soviet Union's program was far bigger and longer-lived, thanks partly to the Soviet practice of keeping sensitive information secret and a smaller concern for health and safety issues.
The Program for the Utilization of Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy, or "Program No. 7," conducted 122 nuclear tests between 1965 and 1988.
Soviet scientists chose the Semipalatinsk nuclear test field in northeastern Kazakhstan to conduct their first and most powerful nuclear explosion under Program No. 7.
On January 15, 1965, a 140 kiloton underground charge -- about nine times the size of the Hiroshima blast -- detonated at the intersection of the dry beds of the Chagan and Ashy-Su rivers.
In the United States, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission announced its program for peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) in 1958. The Plowshare Program, a reference to the biblical imperative to turn "swords into plowshares," envisaged creating canals, harbors, and dams, as well as using nuclear explosions for open-pit mining and forming underground oil and natural-gas reservoirs.
Washington and Moscow had agreed to a nuclear weapons-testing moratorium at the time, so no nuclear explosions were conducted for the following three years.
After the moratorium ended in 1961, the Plowshare Program kicked off with a 3-kiloton test underneath a salt bed deposit in New Mexico. Scientists wanted to study the possibility of converting heat from the explosion into steam for producing electric power. But the blast unexpectedly vented smoke, steam, and radioactive material straight into the atmosphere.
The United States conducted 26 more nuclear tests under the Plowshare Program over the next 12 years. Peaceful nuclear explosions turned out to be most useful for stimulating natural gas production. But economic and environmental concerns forced the program to end in 1975.
BAKU -- Uzbek and Turkmen deputies did not attend the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-Speaking countries in Baku, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani and Uzbek services report.
Azerbaijani political analyst Ilgar Mammadov told RFE/RL that a possible reason the deputies skipped the September 22-23 session is because Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan lack "genuine parliaments" and were prohibited by their governments from attending.
He added that the parliaments in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan have turned into "notary's offices" that rubberstamp bills put forth by their governments. Mammadov said that among the Turkic-speaking countries some degree of "genuine parliamentary activity" can be found only in Turkey.
Uzbek political analyst Farhod Tolipov told RFE/RL that Uzbekistan did not attend the assembly for "subjective reasons." He explained that slogans such as "Turkestan is our home" -- a reference to a pan-Turkic entity -- could be frequently heard in Uzbekistan, but in recent years Central Asian countries have become more nationalistic and distanced themselves from each other.
Initiated by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-Speaking Countries is designed to gather delegates from Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the five Central Asian countries. The next meeting of the assembly is to be held in Astana in 2010.
There's intense activity around Russia's Black Sea port of Sochi ahead of the Winter Olympics due to be held there in 2014, as billions of dollars are being spent to build infrastructure and Olympic venues.
But Russian authorities and conservationists are also going ahead with a project to restore a population of Persian leopards to the region.
It's part of a plan to counter fierce criticism by activists that Olympics-related construction will harm wilderness around Sochi.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently presided over the transfer of two male leopards, a gift from Turkmenistan, into pens in Sochi National Park. The project aims to introduce three pairs of males and females to a $3 million breeding center.
Igor Chestin, director of the Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund -- which initiated the leopard project -- says the offspring will be released into the wild in the neighboring Caucasus State Biosphere Reserve.
"We've put special measures [in place] to increase the number of prey for the leopards, primarily chamois, ibex, red deer, and wild boar," says Chestin. "And we'll distribute salt licks every year. We expect to see the number of animals increase to 40 to 50 within about 15 to 20 years."
The Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) is one of the largest of subspecies of leopards, with a long tail and a highly-prized pelt patterned with black rosettes and spots.
The leopards lived in mountainous areas throughout the Caucasus but largely disappeared last century because of poaching and a shrinking habitat.
A mere 10-12 wild leopards are believed to exist in remote areas of Russia's northeastern Caucasus. The same number is believed to remain in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, while up to seven animals reportedly to live in Georgia.
Chestin says the only viable populations exist in Turkmenistan, which has more than 100 leopards, and in Iran, with up to 300 leopards.
"The population in the Caucasus is not really viable. It's sustained only because of an inflow of leopards from Iran," Chestin says. "Our idea was to establish another northern nucleus of the leopard population that would support small groups in the Russian Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan."
Chestin says Ashgabat has pledged to send more cats to Russia, and negotiations are also under way with Iran.
One of the two leopards released in Sochi National Park
The endangered leopard is protected in all countries in which it lives, including Afghanistan, where little is known about its status.
In the southern Caucasus countries of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, conservation work is focused on protecting the leopard's last remaining habitats and cracking down on poaching.
Chestin says the leopards will be able to survive there in isolated pockets if their populations are supplemented by new animals from Iran or Russia.
"The primary task in the southern Caucasus is to expand protected areas as much as possible, but there isn't much room left because most of the areas have already been developed by humans," Chestin says. "There are no more than two or three adult animals in one site, so these groups are very vulnerable."
Chestin says conservation and anti-poaching measures in Turkmenistan have enabled the leopard population there to increase by some 40 percent over the last decade. He says that experience has given optimism about the effort to restore leopard populations in the Caucasus.
October marks the beginning of military call-up season in much of Central Asia. But Talant, a 24-year-old Kyrgyz man, says he intends to avoid the draft at any cost.
"Under current circumstances in the army, I wouldn't want to serve in the armed forces,’ said Talant.
“We hear a lot about bullying in the army, about poor social conditions in the army."
Talant has left Kyrgyzstan to study abroad and does not plan to return home until he is 28 -- when he will be clear of the country's twice-yearly draft that targets men aged 18-27. All in that age bracket are required to serve for one year, although Talant says that "most of young Kyrgyz men I know have found ways to skip army service."
Talant's comments reflect the sentiments of many draft-age youths throughout Central Asia.
The thought of military service in the region conjures up images of appalling living conditions in military barracks, inadequate food, and widespread bullying of young conscripts. And the Soviet-era conscription systems used to fill the ranks of the militaries are notable for the various avenues employed to evade them.
Many draft age men enroll in universities to take advantage a law that prohibits the recruitment of students. Others leave for Russia or other countries and wait out the summer and autumn call-up seasons. Still others obtain fake military certificates that verify the document holder has met his service obligations.
The bribing of doctors in order to receive confirmation that potential conscripts are not medically fit for military service is reportedly commonplace. And corruption is rampant at recruitment centers, leading to the widespread belief that military service is really only mandatory for the underprivileged, since those who can afford to find ways to buy themselves out of military service.
This year, Kyrgyzstan has taken steps to address some of the problems associated with its twice-yearly draft by introducing new measures aimed at boosting compliance.
The length of conscript service has been shortened -- from two years to one. And conscripts have been offered an official avenue to pay for a service exemption.
A new Kyrgyz law allows those who pay the equivalent of $270 to recruitment centers to obtain military certificates after undergoing just one month of special military training.
Moving Away From Conscription?
The changes follow promises of military reform made by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev following his reelection this summer.
Outlining the eventual development of "modern and professional armed forces provided with state-of-the-art equipment," Bakiev said in a July 28 address to the nation that "we must give up the system of compulsory military conscription." The president, touting the goal of eventually switching to a "contractual principle of manning a military contingent," noted the necessity of ensuring the "maximum level of security in the country after giving up the universal conscription system."
Detractors, however, have completely the opposite view, and call for a return to a conscription system that makes military service compulsory for everyone regardless of their education or social background.
Among them is Ismail Isakov, a former Kyrgyz defense minister who tells RFE/RL that the new measures "serve the rich."
"Under the Kyrgyz laws if you're studying at the higher education institutions, you won't go to the army; if you pay 12,000 soms (Eds: approximately $270) you will get away with one-month military training,” said Isakov.
“Of course, rich people's children would only choose these methods because they can afford going to universities or paying 12,000 soms. Only those who can't pay have to serve in the army."
Regionally, Isakov is not alone in his assessment. Tajik Colonel Mahdi Sobirov tells RFE/RL that the national armed forces of Central Asia have turned into armies of "peasants and workers' children."
Benefits For Former Soldiers
In terms of struggling with a military image that keeps potential conscripts away, Uzbekistan may be the exception in Central Asia.
The country lowered compulsory service to 12 months years ago, and has also introduced options for paying out of service. Uzbekistan has also introduced special privileges for former soldiers seeking to enter universities or to receive lucrative jobs in law-enforcement bodies or the criminal justice system.
Investments have also been made into the construction of new military barracks and training centers, as well as for soldiers' uniforms and food.
The benefits have served to attract many youths to the military. Ironically, some even reportedly pay bribes to get into the army, in the belief that it will pave their way to better education and career opportunities.
Jamshed, an 18-year-old student in Tashkent, tells RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that he wants to serve in the army after graduating from his university.
"It's better to serve in the army because I need a military certificate in the future. I will have less of problem finding a good job if get the certificate,” said Jamshed. “That's why I'm planning to join the army."
Military officials in neighboring Tajikistan say they look to eventually follow Uzbekistan's example by improving conditions in the army and introducing privileges for former soldiers.
"We've asked the government to give former soldiers quotas in universities. We've asked for a number of benefits. But at this point there is not enough money for radical improvements," says Major Husniyabonu Khushdilova, a high-ranking official with the Tajik Defense Ministry.
However, Major Khushdilova is confident that "the funds will be available soon enough."
In the meantime, officers from recruitment centers in Tajikistan continue to counter potential conscripts' attempts at evading service by seizing young men from streets, railway stations, and airports -- a practice commonly known as "oblava" -- before sending them to serve in the national army.
If we want to deal with Russia, we need to understand it. But since the end of the Cold War the dominant discourse in the West has focused on what Russia lacks -- be it Western-style democracy, the rule of law, or property rights.
These may indeed be missing, but Russia has ways of justifying their absence or claiming that they are present in uniquely Russian forms. This may be just a cover story, but we need to look at the Russian debate to find out.
One thing is clear. Since the end of a period in the 1990s when anything that smacked of ideology was anathema, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been quietly rediscovering the power of ideas. Today’s Russia has a lively intellectual debate that cites thinkers as diverse as Slavoj Žižek and Carl Schmitt, and also produces a range of domestic ideas on national identity, the Russian political system, modernization, globalization, and international politics.
“What Does Russia Think?” is a collection of essays by leading Russian political observers that was released this month by the European Council on Foreign Relations. The papers are the product of a conference of the same name held in Moscow on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Russia in July, and they form a useful guide to the intellectual discussion currently going on in Russia.
In the Western media, the Russia debate is normally presented as a straightforward face-off between the regime’s apologists and its liberal critics. But this masks a far more complex reality. The common ground shared by Putin’s generation is neither liberal proselytism nor nostalgia for Stalinism, but the cumulative experience of the “20-year crisis” since the late perestroika era and the existential crisis produced by the unexpected independence of the Russian Federation in 1991.
Their worldview is shaped by what they see as a double failure – of both Soviet authoritarianism and of Boris Yeltsin’s anarchic version of democracy.
The Putin Consensus
Vyacheslav Glazychev, a publisher and a member of Russia’s Public Chamber, claims in his essay for the volume that “a fear of empty space” is the main underlying reason for supporting Putin. Free Russia NGO Union head Modest Kolerov identifies the secret of Putin’s success in the fact that he is the first Russian leader to embody both a security and a social consensus -- restoring the power of the state after its near collapse in the 1990s and supposedly reigning in the oligarchs.
Both authors claim it is wrong to think of this consensus as a temporary aberration, soon to be replaced by a resurgent liberal elite. The “Putin consensus” is not just a transactional relationship based on high oil prices.
While Yeltsin’s Russia was inclined to imitate Western models, the Russia of Putin and Dmitry Medvedev is trying to come up with a model of its own. As the essay by political scientist Leonid Polyakov shows, the overarching quest for most Russians is not to join the West, but to free themselves from the West. And in the long term, “the task before us is to turn Russia from an imitator of other civilizations into a model to be imitated by others.”
Nevertheless, for the moment at least, the “Putin consensus” is still largely a negative phenomenon. The regime’s intellectual supporters can agree on what they do not want, but they do not agree on what the Russian economy or society should look like in 10 or 20 years’ time.
Center for Post-Industrial Studies director Vladislav Inozemtsev argues that “there is no consensus in favor of modernization. In most countries that have successfully modernized in recent years, there was a widespread feeling that the country was trailing not only the great powers but even its regional partners. However, the political elite claims that Russia is already successful, while a large part of the entrepreneurial class and the ruling bureaucracy derives its riches from oil and gas extraction and other resource-producing companies, and is therefore not interested in modernizing industry.”
Inozemtsev continues: “There is little understanding of what modernization actually requires. Modernization is often confused with the development of a high-tech knowledge economy rather than improvements in manufacturing industry.”
In the early stages of the global economic crisis, therefore, many in the West predicted that as the oil price collapsed, Russia’s modernizing economists, such as Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, would seek to patch things up with the West. “Ekspert” editor Valery Fadeev argues that the crisis has in fact strengthened the statist elements of the Putin consensus, leading the Kremlin to consolidate its grip on the economy and to clip the wings of various oligarchs. Moreover, the fatalism of Inozemtsev’s piece shows how beleaguered economic reformers have become now that the price of oil has returned to over $70 a barrel.
Multipolar Or Unipolar?
Russian foreign policy is less stable, however. One important source of tension and ambiguity is that Russia is a status-quo power on a global level, but a revisionist power in Europe. The essay by Timofei Bordachev, of the online magazine “Russian Journal,” shows that Russia’s global policies are guided by its obsession with different models of polarity.
After the old Cold War bipolarity collapsed in 1991, Russia’s overriding obsession has been opposing U.S. unipolarity with effective multipolarity, where all poles have sufficient resources to check one another. Moscow is therefore only interested in its status relative to other powers, in particular the United States. “Reset” diplomacy may therefore face real problems. If Russia’s main goal is to prevent unipolarity, it is actually interested in a stronger Iran.
At the European level, however, Russia’s ambitions are revisionist. First, the traditional fear of Russia’s elites that its current borders are vulnerable -- hence its constant drive to surround itself with satellites or buffer states. Second is the psychological insecurity that Putin’s elite developed in the 1990s. Third is resentment against European institutions that it feels are biased against Russia, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights. A return to a state-centered Westphalian world is, in Russia’s view, the only way to bring stability back to Europe.
In Moscow’s view, the global economic crisis is an opportunity to realize some of these goals. It will reverse the process of globalization and strengthen the trend toward regionalization -- hence Russia’s decreased interest in the World Trade Organization and its struggle for the post-Soviet space to be recognized as a sphere of its “privileged interests.” Russia also expects the crisis to accelerate the decline of Washington’s influence and of the EU’s global relevance.
The EU will only be able to develop an effective approach to Moscow if its policymakers rediscover some of the curiosity for Russia’s internal debates that they had during the Cold War. As the historian Vojtech Mastny has argued: ‘If the Cold War and its ending demonstrated anything, it showed that beliefs can be as powerful as realities and illusions more compelling than interests.’
The conclusions of the independent commission on the August 2008 war in Georgia, released in a report on September 30, should not only be noted by the European Union, which mandated the report, but should also give all parties grounds for serious thought.
The basic question of who was responsible for the conflict has long been answered. The leaders of both Russia and Georgia are at fault: the Russians for provoking rather than avoiding armed conflict, and then for overreacting, and the Georgian leader for launching a disastrous military attack and thus triggering what ended as a disaster for Georgia and for thousands of civilians.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is personally responsible to his people for having launched the military aggression against Tskhinvali, and thereby giving Russia a free hand to enter, occupy, and formally recognize the independence of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
This judgment was passed by the vast majority of the Georgian people months before the commission led by diplomat Heidi Tagliavini made its conclusions public. The sentence was pronounced this spring, when for some 100 days hundreds of thousands of Georgians participated in repeated demonstrations to demand that Saakashvili resign and schedule early presidential elections.
A president who brought destruction on his country because of his misguided and willful decisions should answer for those actions and be held responsible. There will undoubtedly be further mass protests with the aim of forcing Saakashvili to comply with international norms and bow to the will of his people.
What has changed with the Tagliavini commission's findings is that this judgment has been legitimized and accepted by the international community; neither the Georgian president nor the Russian authorities are immune from blame and responsibility.
Time To Move Forward
As a democratic opposition leader, I think that our duty to both Georgian and international opinion is to confront this reality and try to move on from there.
If in the future we ever want to renew ties with the populations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whoever succeeds Saakashvili will have to address the consequences of his actions. We shall have to ask for forgiveness for the assault upon Tskhinvali. We, the opposition -- if we are given the responsibility for Georgia's destiny -- will have to face up to the fact that, albeit to a much lesser extent, we too bear responsibility for not having more effectively opposed Saakashvili's bellicose rhetoric and instincts.
For the Georgian opposition, this entails speaking the truth about the war without fear of being branded a "Russian fifth column" by government propaganda. Trying to portray any opposition movement as a Trojan horse acting in the interest of foreign foes is and will remain a hallmark of Saakashvili's rule. We should have understood by now that such allegations typify the deceptive nature of Saakashvili's style of government.
Acknowledging Russia's share of responsibility in infringing upon Georgia's sovereignty, we should also seek ways to end this confrontation and start to rebuild a new relationship based on harsh truth, rather than on demagogic lies on both sides.
Beyond our borders, our friends too have to reconcile themselves to the report's findings, which most of them already knew, but did not fully want to admit to. The first clear lesson is that while Saakashvili may cast himself as the strongest detractor of Vladimir Putin, that alone does not make him a better democrat, or a better candidate for preserving stability in a crucial region on Europe's distant borders.
In fact, the August war was, if anything, a war between autocrats. This war took place precisely because neither country applied democratic decision-making procedures before resorting to military force.
Clear Demands Needed
Since both regimes are still in place, another disaster is not out of the question. In order to prevent such a repetition and new confrontation and destabilization, Europe and the United States should make clear what they expect and require from the two perpetrators.
From Saakashvili, nothing less than real progress towards democracy should be demanded. This is also what the vast majority of the Georgian population has been demanding since the Rose Revolution of November 2003. The demonstrations which have regularly taken place since November 2007 testify to the Georgian people's yearning for genuine democratic rule.
Western governments should make their demands clear: media freedom, a truly independent judiciary, the protection of private property. But official promises should no longer be taken at face value: Western governments should impose strict conditions on any form of financial assistance.
From Russia, respect for existing agreements should be one of the conditions for a true "reset" of relations with the West. The question of the preexisting conflict zones and their return to Georgia is not one that can realistically be addressed at the present time. It should and will be discussed at some future date as one component of a global discussion of European security. Abkhazia and South Ossetia will return to Georgian control only as part of a grand bargain between Europe, Russia, and the United States.
The same does not hold true, however, of the two regions that were "forcibly occupied and annexed" during last summer's war and kept in violation of the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreements. Russia should be called on to return to the positions it occupied before August 7. The Akhalgori/Ksani and Liakhvi valleys on the South Ossetian side and the Kodori valley adjacent to Abkhazia are currently occupied in blatant violation of the agreement Moscow signed with the EU presidency. The Tagliavini report rightly points out that Kodori was not under Abkhaz control prior to that date, nor was the Georgian side responsible for launching the aggression there.
We in the Georgian democratic opposition do not for one moment doubt that Ambassador Tagliavini and her colleagues were inspired by the quest for truth and objectivity, and the desire to promote political stability and the rule of law. But their report will effectively serve peace and stability in the region only if we regard it as offering new dimensions to think about our common future. If we do not, it will remain no more than 1,000 pages of print that mask the EU's unwillingness to engage itself with greater determination, which by partially substantiating the one-sided arguments of both Russia and Georgia could trigger a renewed confrontation in the Caucasus.
We want that report to mark a new beginning for all conflict parties. Only then will the effort and expenditure that went into the report not have been in vain.
Iran is well on its way to becoming a nuclear power. Iranian officials have been loud and clear: their country's nuclear program is not bazaar merchandise. Nothing withheld by sanction, offered in exchange, or threatened for noncompliance has so far induced Tehran to trade.
Hence the latest angst in Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin -- this time triggered by Iran's disclosure to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the construction of a plant to enrich uranium near the holy city of Qom. Iranian officials responded, feigning puzzlement, that they were fulfilling international treaty obligations in a timely fashion although IAEA rules (which Iran unilaterally abrogated) require notification prior to construction.
Of course, in this age of high-tech surveillance, the U.S. government had known of the facility's existence since shortly after construction supposedly began in 2005 -- although reports from Iran suggest that the project's inception dates to the early 1990s and received Chinese assistance. So some, if not all, of the intelligence agencies of other permanent members in the United Nations Security Council (the so-called P5) knew as well.
Washington had hoped to keep the issue under wraps to serve as a test of Iran's fulfillment of obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and additional protocols. Then Iran jumped the gun, notifying the IAEA before Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad addressed the UN General Assembly in New York and before U.S. President Barack Obama could convince the UN Security Council to adopt a sweeping nonproliferation and disarmament resolution.
Speaking in Pittsburgh at the Group of 20 summit, U.S., British, and French leaders chided Iran for unveiling yet another nuclear complex, fearing its endeavors would contribute to a weapons program.
Iran's president fired back that those Western statesmen would regret their hostile words, claiming the plant would produce low-enriched uranium for peaceful energy only. Indeed, even prior to the Obama administration disclosing to the press that Iran had a uranium-enrichment plant at Qom, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran would seek to purchase high-enriched uranium from the P5 -- supposedly for isotope and medical research. At the same time, Iran and Venezuela were declaring cooperation to facilitate the latter's nascent nuclear program within the framework of the NPT.
Despite attempts by the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany) to present a united front against Iran, the French are vacillating over proposed sanctions on refined nuclear-fuel exports to Iran as noted by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner while at the UN General Assembly. At the G20 summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev went on record saying that sanctions were not the best way to achieve results -- despite U.S. hopes that Russia was on board in the wake of Washington's missile-shield pullback from Central Europe. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman indicated Beijing would not go along with the U.S.-led push for crippling sanctions.
The West has been told that Iran "will never negotiate" over its nuclear "rights" and that it views talks with the P5+1 as focusing on "global challenges." Iran has repeatedly made those points amply clear -- through the international scope of its recent negotiations-framework proposal and in numerous public statements by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki.
So negotiators can try hard when the P5+1 talks with Iran open in Geneva on October 1, but they are unlikely to dissuade Iran from nuclearization.
Let's also keep in mind that Iran learned well from Israel's air strike against an Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981. Since the inception of its own nuclear program, Tehran has taken tactical steps aimed at ensuring that military strikes would be less than effective. By locating multiple facilities near major population centers, Iran also placed the West in the awkward situation of potentially endangering innocent civilians.
Moreover, the window for a limited yet truly effective first strike against Iran's nuclear facilities closed during the waning days of George Bush's presidency and the opening years of Bill Clinton's first presidential term. After the mid-1990s, it was no longer possible to accomplish the West's goals with one or two days of air strikes against an emerging nuclear program.
Now, even if its nuclear facilities are attacked and severely damaged, Iran has the knowledge, experience, and capability to rebuild within five to 10 years. Iran would certainly withdraw from the NPT, barring IAEA inspectors from its reconstruction efforts. Iran could retaliate by blocking the Persian Gulf -- through which one-fifth of the world's crude oil flows. It could attempt missile strikes against U.S. and British forces in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and against Israel.
Even without blocking crude-oil shipments or attacking the West and Middle East directly, Iran could work through Hamas, Hezbollah, and even team up with Al-Qaeda to generate much long-term conflict.
The U.S. Congress and American public are yearning to leave Iraq and Afghanistan. The prospect of having to redouble efforts in those two places to hold off trouble stirred up by the Iranian government, plus move additional forces into the Persian Gulf region to safeguard oil and gas shipments, would be most unwelcome, if not downright unacceptable.
Ultimately, only a handful of states -- the United States, Israel, England, France, and Germany -- are truly concerned about the negative ramifications of Iran's nuclear capabilities. Much of the rest of the world couldn't care less.
Indeed, the Russians and Chinese actually have played major roles in aiding Iran's atomic and missile research. As a result, Ahmadinejad's government knows that neither crippling sanctions nor military strikes are likely; nor does Tehran fear either will be effective.
So despite cries of outrage by some members of the P5+1, it's most likely that the world will end up accepting Iran into the system of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Whether Iran actually tests a nuclear weapon or not will be a moot point -- Tehran is now too far along the way toward developing fissile material, warhead and detonation technology, and a ballistic delivery system to be stopped by the outside world.
A recent opinion poll indicates that many Iranians attribute advantages to developing nuclear energy, especially as their oil reserves eventually will be exhausted. The same data reveal most Iranians, however, do not see benefit accruing from their country possessing an atomic arsenal. So it seems that political change from within Iran, led by Iranians who realize that while nuclear energy may be beneficial, nuclear weapons are not, can alter the course that the current government in Tehran is taking both at home and abroad.
Yet the world, and especially the United States, can still learn from mistakes made by not taking timely action to halt Iran's nuclearization. At least as troubling as Iran's march toward atomic fission is its sharing that technology with Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela -- in the United State's own neighborhood.
Resurrecting shades of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Ahmadinejad, his autocratic regime, and their allies know full well how to jerk Washington's chain. The U.S. government could, in a worst-case scenario, live with a nuclear Iran.
But can Washington politically accept another nuclear-weapons-wielding country in the Americas?
Few parts of America have been as badly hit by the global economic crisis as California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been forced to slash state budgets to compensate for a $24 billion shortfall.
Among the items on the chopping block were 100 California state parks -- including Fort Ross, a 19th-century settlement on the Pacific coast just north of San Francisco that was established by a group of hunters and traders from Russia.
The fort, whose name is derived from "Rossiya," was ultimately spared closure, when California announced on September 25 it would keep the parks open. But the weeks before the decision saw a flurry of diplomatic activity, with Russian officials lobbying for Fort Ross not to be closed.
Speaking on the sidelines of last week's UN General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for Fort Ross to be preserved as a reminder that the United States and Russia enjoyed warm relations long before the start of the Cold War.
The cemetery at Fort Ross.
"I would like to ask our business community to help save this unique monument to the Russian participation in the development of America and the symbol of the long-standing Russian-American relations," Lavrov said. "I can assure you that the Russian government is prepared to support this endeavor, and President [Dmitry] Medvedev, to whom I talked about this issue, supported it strongly."
Fort Ross was founded in 1812 and functioned for 30 years as Russia's southernmost settlement on American soil, supplying food and otter-fur pelts to Russian colonists in Alaska.
The grounds, which have been designated a U.S. national historic landmark, feature traditional wooden-beam houses and a Russian Orthodox Church modeled on those built by the fort's settlers.
Only one original building -- a wooden home belonging to the fort's last manager, Aleksandr Rotchev -- remains on the premises.
Here Come The Russians
The site is a source of fascination for many Russians. Lyn Kalani, who heads the Fort Ross Interpretive Association, a nonprofit organization working to preserve the park, says the grounds have been visited frequently by the Russian media since the threatened closure was announced.
"We are working with Russian institutions on several projects," Kalani said. "One is the research project with the Russian State Naval Archive. The other one is making a house museum in the Russian-built Rotchev House, which is the only original structure remaining from the Russian times here."
Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak (left) and Consul General Vladimir Vinokurov visited the fort in August.
Although Fort Ross has been spared closure, it is facing severe budget cuts. The park's annual revenues come to $200,000 -- just one-fifth of its $1-million operating budget.
With the state no longer able to support the park, Fort Ross supporters are looking for funding elsewhere -- including Russia.
The drive to save the park may be a rare instance where Russian intervention in U.S. domestic affairs may actually be welcome.
Jeff Macedo, the deputy press secretary for Schwarzenegger, said California law does not prohibit state parks from looking abroad for private or state funding.
Macedo said the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, and Vladimir Vinokurov, the Russian consul general from San Francisco, have both taken an active interest in the fate of Fort Ross:
"The Russian ambassador came out to discuss with our parks department the importance of Fort Ross to the Russian people and the history behind it," he said. "And then the governor and the ambassador also exchanged letters regarding the importance of the park."
Following a visit to Fort Ross in late August, Kisylak stopped short of saying whether Russia would commit state funds to help save the park. He expressed confidence, however, that benefactors could be found to help maintain California's first Russian settlement.
Interview With Historian Tony Judt: 'Dreaming About Washington Is One Of East Europe's Great Mistakes'
The future of the EU, Russia's relations with Europe, the course of American foreign policy. All have dominated headlines in recent weeks, and all are issues that renowned European historian Tony Judt has spent a lifetime studying and writing about. He is the author of, "Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945," "Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century," and "A Grand Illusion? An Essay on Europe," to name just a few. Judt, who is director of the Erich Maria Remarque Institute at New York University, sat down with RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher for a broad-ranging interview about the strength of the European Union, Russia's ambitions, and what Central and Eastern Europe should expect from Washington.
RFE/RL: Professor Judt, a little over a decade ago, you wrote about the European community and asked whether the idea was a "grand illusion." Since then, you have also said that the European Union faces a dismal future because it sprang from overlapping national interests rather than a collective desire for unity. Is Europe still more focused on what divides it rather than what unites it? Is the "European project" a myth?
Tony Judt: It's easiest if one begins by remembering that it ought to be a huge paradox that the European Union -- the world's most successful transnational institutional arrangement -- grew out of the circumstances of the worst-ever European war, the Second World War.
It's not a paradox when you remember that the members of what became the EU -- before that, the European Community, before that, the European Economic Community -- were precisely those European states which, among those which had suffered worse, were still free. Obviously, those [states] which suffered the worst in the Second World War in Europe were the states that ended up under the Soviet Union; East Central Europe had a much worse war than West Europe -- more people killed, more damage, more destruction, more collapse of structures, etcetera.
But the countries that joined the European coal and steel community in '51 -- which became the Economic Community in '57-58 -- were also all countries which had either been defeated -- Germany and Italy -- or occupied -- France, Luxembourg, Belgium, [and] Holland. It did not include countries which had not been occupied -- like Britain -- or which had remained independent or neutral -- Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Scandinavia, or Sweden at any rate. And it's relevant, I think, to know this.
These were countries which, in different ways, could only recover by collaborating with each other. They were no longer either politically strong enough -- like West Germany -- or economically viable enough -- [like] Italy [and] the Netherlands at the time -- to recover alone. Or, like France, they had experienced humiliating defeat, occupation, and were beginning to experience a loss of empire -- a violent loss of empire.
And so what happened was that this sort of slow realization that took, in the French case, six years -- from the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the '50s -- the slow realization that the only path out of defeat, poverty, a return to the interwar circumstances of depression and political extremism was by one form or another of international cooperation. So it was not driven by a European ideal of "never again, war," or French and German reconciliation, and so on -- though there were of course people who talked about that. It was driven by, if you like, the logic of self interest.
RFE/RL: When the Czech Republic held the rotating EU Presidency earlier this year, it thumbed its nose quite strongly at the idea of a unified Europe, and it's not alone in its disdain.
Judt: Right, and indeed: the Czechs and the Poles today -- both presidents -- are waiting and hoping for the Irish to defeat the Lisbon Treaty [in the October 2 referendum] because [then] they'll have that as an excuse to say, "Right, we won't ratify, we won't even bring it to our parliaments -- it's defeated, it's dead, it's finished."
Certainly if I were running Russian foreign policy, I would look at Europe and see countries waiting to be picked off, one by one.
The background to this, of course -- and it's important -- is that all of the great successes of the European Union and its predecessors were institutional, not political. Europe was constructed institutionally; there were no votes, there were no plebiscites, no referendums. The first European Parliament election was in 1979, over 20 years after the coming of the European Economic Community. This was inevitable, and it was probably a good thing.
If you had asked the European peoples in the early 1950s, or even as late as the '60s -- and I could certainly confirm this firsthand, from personally memory -- if you had asked the French or the Germans or the Brits or the Italians, not to mention, say, the Danes or the Austrians, "Would you like to have a European Union in which you reduce your local powers, give all the power to Brussels, in return for centralized administrative and institutional structures?" You would have had a resounding negative vote. In almost every country. Maybe Luxembourg would have voted yes.
It had to be built institutionally. And it was very successfully built. Legal structures, trading structures, financial structures, for tariffs and so on. You couldn't put this to a vote in countries which had just experienced two vicious wars -- two destructive wars -- in one generation. It would have been politically impossible. The extreme left and extreme right would have opposed it, [and] the center never would have been able to support it alone.
But therefore we face a paradox today: that this magnificent structure of transnational legal institutions, transnational economic institutions, rules of law, regulations, which bind at least the European elite, if not European peoples -- which by the way is the envy of regional organizations and aspirants, I know from traveling there, in Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia -- this European achievement because it's uniquely institutional, lacks political legitimacy, it lacks deep roots in almost any of the member countries. Once you get past the sort of medieval-style traveling clerisy, people like us who think of themselves as Europeans, speak the common European language, English, and are just as at home in Brussels or Prague or Paris or London, as we might be in Berlin or Vienna or whatever -- the question is now and for 20 years has been, "How do you turn this into a political union that people identify with?"
Czech President Vaclav Klaus: blaming Brussels?
The problem, by the way, is not the people, it's the politicians. The problem is politicians because for any given politician in Europe -- whether it's [Vaclav] Klaus in Prague, [Nicholas] Sarkozy in Paris, [Gordon] Brown in England, anyone anywhere -- the easiest way to respond to an economic problem or an international difficulty when your country is at odds with other European countries on policy is to blame Brussels, because it's a cost-free exercise. That's why treaties are being rejected, or come close to rejection [in places like] France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and other European countries. Because local politicians, essentially fighting on local issues, have used the European fall guy, so to speak, as the target for their attacks, so as to gain local popularity, on issues that have local resonance: immigration laws, the presence of foreigners, taxation rules, Brussels forcing us to do this, Brussels forcing us to do that, and no mainstream politicians -- other than in the '70s and '80s: [France's Valery Giscard d'Estaing], [Germany's Helmut] Schmidt, [France's Francois] Mitterrand, [Germany's Helmut] Kohl to some extent -- has devoted political capital to defending Europe against national criticisms. Without that, it has no chance.
RFE/RL: The last few winters in Europe have seen the same movie playing out: Russia holds one or more countries hostage over gas and or oil supplies. These countries aren't operating from a position of strength, let alone unity, and they're vulnerable to Russia picking them off. On issues as critical as energy security, can Europe unify and consolidate its political power?
Judt: Well, there are three different issues involved here. The first is, if you like, the old East-West issue. The shadow of the first 50 years after World War II still hangs over the last 20 years. That is, the sensibilities of Europe's eastern states -- Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and so on, not to speak of the neighbors further east , like Ukraine or Belarus, and so on, Georgia -- are very different toward Russia from those of Western Europe.
Western Europeans, despite the Cold War -- to some extent because of it -- are much less worried about Russia, think much less of Russia as a threat, see it as much less of a problem, than Russia's former colonies or neighbors, and that's crucial. It's very hard for your Polish or Ukrainian listeners to understand because it seems bizarre and absurd. But it's true.
And it's above all true for Germany. Most Germans, particular West Germans, look upon Russia as a natural, implicit colleague in any collaboration for European stability. This is an old story; it goes back to the 1880s and 1890s. You have two large, well-established historic powers -- economic powers, strategic powers, German-speaking Central Europe and Russia, on Europe's eastern fringes, and in between that you have lots and lots of territories and lands and peoples, and languages and religions and ethnic groups, which both [Russia and Germany] have historically regarded as colonial territory. And that colonial territory is no longer thought of that way. But some of the attitudes -- historical attitudes -- remain. So the first thing to recall is that when the English or the Germans, or as it might be, the Spanish, and certainly the French, think about Russia, they think of it as a country ‘to deal with' on more or less equal terms. But not as a threat....
The second observation -- there is a paradox here -- is that it's going to get worse, not better. The European Union's refusal to work with Turkey on a serious strategy and timetable for admission is catastrophic for Europe's attitude towards Russia, because the growing alienation of Turkey serves Russian interests.
Obviously, one only has to look at a map, not to mention a map of oil resources. By refusing to imagine Turkey as a strategic partner, the French and the Germans especially, are pushing Turkey toward Russia. I remember being struck by this at meeting in Istanbul that I went to some years ago, the instinctive response of Turks rebuffed by Europe is to say, "Very well. Our strategic alternative is, so to speak, a Central Asian power alliance with Russia, because to whom else should we look? We Turks are linguistically, historically, ethnically and economically the potential power in Central Asia. If we're not wanted in Europe, we have to look to Central Asia. And in Central Asia, our strategic partner is Russia."
Opening a gas pipeline between North and South Ossetia in August 2009, a year after Russian troops moved in to back separatist forces against Georgia
So what we have done, we West Europeans, is to simultaneously say: "We want Turkey to provide us with pipelines and oil supplies coming out of the Crimea or whatever it might be. But at the same time we don't want Turks in Europe because they're not really Europeans, there are too many of them, they're too poor, they're too Muslim, etc." This plays very badly in Turkey.
And the Russians know it perfectly well. So the Russians are in a position to exercise what you might call "gas blackmail" -- and to a lesser extent oil blackmail -- because they know that in the long run they may well have Turks on their side rather against them. If they knew that Turkey was absolutely solidly integrated into Europe, as a strategic partner, then they would have to be much more open to European negotiations, because Russia needs Turkey as its route for the gas pipelines. But if Turkey is an uncertain territory, Russia has more cards in its hands....
The other thing, I suppose that has to be borne in mind -- this is my third point -- is that the utter inability of the European Union to forge a foreign policy of its own -- whether toward the Middle East or its attitude toward Afghanistan, toward, before Obama was elected, George Bush's policies, its attitude on Africa, its attitude on immigration, all of these things mean that -- certainly if I were running, God help me, Russian foreign policy, I would look at Europe and see countries waiting to be picked off, one by one.
There is no European foreign policy and therefore there is no united European position. That is why [Czech President] Vaclav Klaus is not only remarkably absurd in many of his stances, but utterly self-defeating because his desire -- together with [Polish President Lech] Kaczynski's desire -- to destroy the Lisbon Treaty [and] to destroy the possibility of some sort of united European political structure that could provide a foreign policy executive will in the end only benefit Russia. To some extent locally, it benefits [countries] like Israel, because there is a division on attitudes towards the Middle East; but the real beneficiary is Russia.
RFE/RL: As a historian you study the past and you see the mistakes that we're bound to repeat if we don't learn certain lessons. From that perspective, and given the mistakes you say Europe is now making, what do you see happening down the line in terms of Russia's expansionist ambitions -- be they territorial, economic, or political?
Judt: I think in the very long perspective -- which is always the easiest to take but the least interesting because in the long run, of course, we could all say anything and something will be true -- but in the very long perspective, I would say that it's clear that Russia is going to seek some sort of compensatory advance to overcome the humiliation of its recent decline.
Don't forget that as seen from a historian's perspective, a historian of contemporary Europe, Stalin was in many ways the natural successor to Catherine the Great, and the tsars of the 19th Century, expanding into the Russian near west, and to the Russian southwest in particular -- territories that Catherine began her expansion into, which have always been regarded as crucial by Russian strategists, both because of access to resources, access to warm water ports, and because it gives Russia a role in Europe, as well as in Asia.
For Russia to have a role in Asia is easy. It's obvious that Russia will remain the dominant local great power in the whole region, stretching from southwest China to the Turkish border.
But for Russia to have a role in Europe, which historically mattered much more to its rulers, it has to have some influence along its western frontiers, a region that as a Russian historian once explained to me, "Eto Nashe -- this area is ours." By which he meant, the borderlands area: The Baltic, the Crimea, eastern Ukraine, Belarus, and those areas of what we think of as core Europe, which are culturally, or religiously, or historically, under Russian influence, the far eastern reaches of Poland, of Slovakia, and northern Romania, and so on. So the question is not, "Will Russia seek influence in these regions?" but, "How?"
Historically it was done either by absorbing [countries] into its empire -- and this was, after all, right up, I suppose you might say, till 1945 -- or by extending its political influence beyond its borders in ways that no one else could or wanted to counter. That's really what it did in the final six years that followed World War II, by reproducing the Soviet model of government, not necessarily dominating it militarily or economically, but just reproducing the Soviet model of government all across the Soviet zone of Europe. It's now lost that and we in the West, I think, are very bad at grasping the scale of that loss.
I think we're beginning to see what it means with Putin and Medvedev's efforts to rewrite history, to reestablish so to speak an official account, of Soviet and Russian military action, political action, in the 20th century, which doesn't whitewash Stalin so much as it integrate him into a greater Russian story.
Judt: A colleague of mine in England, a young colleague of mine, Catherine Merridale, wrote a book about Russian soldiers' attitudes toward the Great Patriotic War. She was struck by how much the older generation of Russians, essentially meaning anyone over 55, despite and to some extent because of Stalin's crimes, regard the Stalin period, particularly the war, as the greatest era of pride, achievement, glory, self-confidence, in their lifetime.
What has been lost since is territory, status, a history that they could live with --- everything has been unraveled before their eyes. If this had happened in Americans, or Brits, it would have been culturally catastrophic; to lose the equivalent of, say Texas and California, to be told that all the founding fathers right down to FDR were a bunch of criminals, to discover that you are regarded as on the par with Hitler, in terms of the accepted description of 20th-century evils that we have since overcome.
This was bound to provoke a backlash. And our failure to understand the backlash is simply regarded by Russians as further evidence that there is no reason, there's no possibility of expecting a sympathetic ear in the West.
It's terribly important to understand... that there are very well-informed and intelligent people in Washington who regard the voices of the Cassandras of Eastern Europe as, to put it mildly, self-interested, [and] who regard them as the kind of people who were taken too seriously sometimes by the Bush administration, and indeed in earlier days by other administrations, all the way back to Reagan.
So we're going to face a long period of backlash and imperial comeback in one form or another, from Russia, and we should not be surprised at this. We should not be surprised that everything that [Vladimir] Putin or [Dmitry] Medvedev does that we find abhorrent -- whether it's to do with censorship, the restrictions on the press, rewriting history, rehabilitating Stalin, re-describing the Soviet empire in more positive terms, rejecting Western, or Polish as it might be, criticisms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and so on, all of those things which, to the West, look self-evident -- look to Russians simply as a reminder of the ways in which no one understands them.
RFE/RL: A group of leading thinkers and former leaders from Eastern and Central Europe sent President [Barack] Obama a very public letter a couple of months ago urging him to renew the U.S. relationship with the region. They spoke of a "nervousness in their capitals" and in effect, said, "The Russian bear is growling and hungry and looking at us." The White House has had no response of record, but what it has done is pronounce the "reset button on Russian relations" pushed and we see that things between Moscow and Washington are on a smoother track than before. Going forward, how do you see Obama reconciling the desire of Central /Eastern Europe to feel secure about Russia and important to the United States with the need to keep Russia as a partner on issues like Iran and the war in Afghanistan?
Judt: The first thing to remember -- and this will not go down very well in [Radio Free Europe's] region but it's terribly important to understand it -- is that there are very well-informed and intelligent people in Washington who regard the voices of the Cassandras of Eastern Europe -- as it were, from Poland to Georgia -- as, to put it mildly, self interested, [and] who regard them as the kind of people who were taken too seriously sometimes by the Bush administration, and indeed in earlier days by other administrations, all the way back to Reagan.
[They feel] that, however much you cared for liberty, democracy, freedom, etc., you need to remember that this is a world of realist political choices and you can't conduct your foreign policy toward Russia on the basis of Polish attitudes or, indeed, Georgian attitudes, particularly when the recent Polish government -- not the present but the previous one -- and the present Georgian one, are not perhaps the squeakiest, cleanest governments, on all kinds of issues. So it's not an easy case.
I think the other thing to remember is that a lot of people feel that big mistakes were made by the Bush administration and while we all believe in human rights, etc., Russia is a great power in areas that matter to us. Russia borders on Iran, Russia borders on Turkey -- well, not literally, but across the seas -- Russia borders, much more importantly, on all the former Soviet states going right past Afghanistan and up to the Chinese border, which are most volatile, most likely to matter to the United States on issues of terrorism, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, etc., etc., so we can't conduct foreign policy towards Moscow based on Warsaw's memories of empire.
So I don't think we should expect a big, sensitive response to Central and East European intellectuals or policy experts' advice on these matters. We are, in some ways, making allowances for the obvious changes. Going back to the 50s, however nice the United States is to East Europeans or small countries east of Crimea into the Caucasus -- however nice we are to them -- we have no intention of sending an army to rescue them. You saw that in Georgia, remember Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968. Illusions that America is primarily interested in protecting Moldova, as it were, are simply illusions.
RFE/RL: What, then, should people in Eastern Europe know about the United States' position toward them and their region?
Judt: This is not an area of great interest to the United States, whereas Russia is a great power, which could be useful to the United States, or a great nuisance to the United State. Either way, we will deal with Moscow. And listening to Warsaw is something we shall only do for the purpose of politeness. I do feel that it's important to say this, which is so obvious to me when I go to Washington, and it's a reason why the East Europeans will do much better to invest in a stronger EU, because only a strong EU -- because it's on Russia's borders -- will be forced to think about what it means to deal with Russia, territorially.
Remember, when Americans think about Russia -- just as when Americans think about the Middle East -- they think about "over there." It's a long way away; it's a foreign policy problem.
When Europeans think about Russia, or the Middle East, it's right next door. It's not a foreign policy problem, it's a domestic problem. Islam, immigrants, gas, memories of empire, it's all right next door.
This matters to Europe in a quite different way. Dreaming about Washington is one of East Europe's great mistakes. And they would be advised not to indulge it. Washington is not about to run to their rescue against Russia.
Former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze was a major force behind the reforms that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Later, Mikhail Gorbachev's onetime ally became leader of his native Georgia when civil war threatened to tear the former Soviet republic apart. Shevardnadze spoke to RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent Marina Vashakmadze ahead of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
When your name is mentioned in connection with the fall of the Berlin Wall, you say it was the German people who brought it down. But the London "Times" recently reported that the Politburo was desperately trying to maintain control of the political situation in East Germany as late as six days before the wall fell. You were Soviet foreign minister at the time and, according to the report, said "We'd better take down the wall ourselves." Were those really your words?
Eduard Shevardnadze: The decision about German reunification was reached in Ottawa [at a meeting of NATO and Warsaw Pact representatives in February 1990]. We were discussing another matter and when the discussion was over, [U.S. Secretary of State James] Baker sat down next to me and said, "Eduard, what do you think, perhaps the time has come for Germany's unification?" I told him he should ask [West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich] Genscher. Baker replied that Genscher had already agreed, but added that problems could arise with certain neighbors. Later it became known that [British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher was actively working against German unification. Being a prudent politician, Thatcher didn't want to see the formation of a giant, unified Germany in the center of Europe.
Being a prudent politician, Margaret Thatcher didn't want to see the formation of a giant, unified Germany in the center of Europe.
RFE/RL: In your memoirs, you write that the issue of German reunification emerged as early as July 1985, during the first meeting between Gorbachev and Genscher. How did the process develop? In what ways, for instance, was Gorbachev's stance affected by a 1986 controversy during which [German Chancellor] Helmut Kohl compared Gorbachev to [Nazi propaganda chief Josef] Goebbels?
Shevardnadze: Gorbachev's stance was unclear. When asked whether he thought Germany's reunification possible, he said neither yes nor no. He avoided the matter, and would only talk around it. When the issue arose in Ottawa, Baker asked about Gorbachev's position. It seems strange, but Gorbachev and I had never actually talked about German unification in private. So I told [Baker] that I would call Gorbachev in Moscow and ask.
I made the call and told [Gorbachev] that the [NATO and Warsaw Pact] foreign ministers conference was under way, and that the issue of German unification had emerged. I also told him about the [negotiation] mechanism that had been proposed, '2 +4,' which stood for the two German states, plus the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain, and France. Gorbachev was silent for minute or two. And then he said, "You know what, Eduard? Sooner or later this matter has to be resolved. It would be better if we don't let it drag on, if we don't create a problem."
Mikhail Gorbachev at June 1990 Moscow press conference with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
I went back and delivered the message to Baker. And since we had obtained Gorbachev's consent, the process began. Obviously, German unification could not have taken place in one day. There were difficulties. Germany had its own issues, so did Genscher. He wanted [a unified Germany] to remain in NATO, which the Soviet Union opposed. Personally, I didn't object; and later, after a long time bargaining, we agreed Germany would remain within NATO. The second, very difficult problem was military weapons. When it came to that issue, we pressured Genscher much more forcefully and agreed that if Germany were to remain in NATO, it would have to reduce its arms stockpiles. Work commenced; the process was under way. We seemed to agree on everything. And then Kohl appeared. I don't remember whether he spoke in the Bundestag, or elsewhere....
RFE/RL: He gave an interview.
Shevardnadze: Yes, I think it was in an interview that he compared Gorbachev to Goebbels. It set off a big controversy, and the case we'd been building was on the verge of collapse. So Genscher and I made an agreement. My brother had died in the battle for Brest during World War II, so I suggested he come to Brest to visit my brother's grave to soften Kohl's statement. And indeed, when word got out that Genscher and I were going to Brest, the reaction to Kohl's statement grew milder. Soon Kohl himself appeared in the Bundestag and clarified that [when comparing Gorbachev to Goebbels] he hadn't meant there was an ideological resemblance, but that the two shared a similar work ethic.
Work commenced; the process was under way. We seemed to agree on everything. And then [Helmut] Kohl appeared.
RFE/RL: The process continued for more than a year. The wall began to come down in October 1989, but reunification only took place in October-November 1990. What was happening on the ground? How did people cross the wall?
Shevardnadze: People were crossing [the wall] in both directions. Had Germany not been united without bloodshed, the onset of another world war was possible.
RFE/RL: So the threat of military confrontation was real?
Shevardnadze: Yes, of course. But we'd already been working together with the Americans on arms reduction and had reached an agreement. Persuading Soviet military people was the hardest task, especially Chief of Staff [Sergei] Akhromeyev. The defense minister rarely intervened in anything. I was aware that if any issue needed to be resolved, I had to call or meet Akhromeyev. But he was a stubborn man. So I [often] had no choice but to call Gorbachev. He used to say, "Of course Akhromeyev is right. But this time, we need to support Shevardnadze." By the way, Akhromeyev took those developments very hard -- [German] reunification and the Soviet military withdrawal. He ended up committing suicide.
RFE/RL: Let's talk about the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from East Germany. The 2+4 agreement came into effect in March 1991. But Russian forces actually left only in 1994. How did the process take place?
Shevardnadze: The final decision about the army's withdrawal was made at a convention in Aarhus, Denmark, attended by Kohl, Gorbachev, Akhromeyev, Shevardnadze, and Genscher. It was there the declaration was signed. There was a disagreement about the amount Germany would pay us for withdrawing our military.
RFE/RL: As compensation?
Shevardnadze: Yes. Pulling an army out costs money. We asked for $20 billion. The Germans agreed to pay $16 billion. But on top of that, they gave us a $6 billion loan. So we were supposed to receive $22 billion to resettle our soldiers, build housing, and so on. Nevertheless, the actual withdrawal started after three to four years.
RFE/RL: You write that when Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize, you were standing in front of the Soviet parliament, defending yourself for the same decisions for which Gorbachev was being awarded the prize. Your statement implies a certain discontent with Gorbachev.
The crumbling Berlin Wall in January 1990.
Shevardnadze: Yes, indeed. Had Gorbachev done something, said just a couple words, Shevardnadze would have received the Nobel Prize, too. I was in good working shape at the time -- the world had gotten to know me and trust me and Gorbachev wasn't pleased about it. I think it was in India that two people received the Nobel Prize. The same thing could have happened in the Soviet Union, but they decided against it.
RFE/RL: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili cited the example of the Berlin Wall in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 24. He spoke about "new artificial dividing lines" in Europe. He said the importance of patience is clear, but that the story of the Berlin Wall taught us that patience shouldn't be passive, that the fall of the wall was made possible because of people's actions on both sides. What lesson does the story of the Berlin Wall teach us today?
Shevardnadze: The Russians did make mistakes. We, of course, were wrong too, when our [the Georgian] army entered Sukhumi [the capital of Georgia's pro-Moscow breakaway region Abkhazia in August 1992]. Had we not done so, war wouldn't have broken out. There were other mistakes, too. Russia's was to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and [Georgia's second pro-Moscow separatist province] South Ossetia [in August 2008]. If those regions deserve independence, what about the people of Chechnya, whose population is three or four times bigger?
The West supported us [in 2008], and most countries remain sympathetic to Georgia. The question is whether, and where, interests coincide, say, of Russia and the United States.
The West supported us [last year], and most countries remain sympathetic to Georgia. The question is whether, and where, interests coincide -- say, of Russia and the United States.
Washington wants to help Georgia; Russia wants to become a member of NATO. If NATO membership is indeed in Russia's interests, then there's something to bargain over. Russia should recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity, as [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin did [before the war], despite the presence of [Russian] armed forces here. And Russia should become a member of NATO. Negotiations could also take place over other issues. But without anything to bargain over, this matter isn't going to be resolved quickly.
The Uyghurs of western China are an ethnic Turkic people who are by tradition Muslim, and who feel more kinship with the peoples of Central Asia than with the Han Chinese -- the communist state's dominant population.
The Uyghurs are an ancient race who have made their mark on Eastern and Central Asian history. For more than a hundred years, in the eighth and ninth centuries, they ruled an empire that stretched from Manchuria to the Caspian Sea.
Today, they are concentrated in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. But they also are sizeable minority populations in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Pockets of Uyghur communities also are scattered widely elsewhere in Asia.
Originally a group of hill tribes from the Altai Mountains, the Uyghurs have their own distinctive culture and a Turkic language. Scientists say that genetically, Uyghurs are an admixture of Caucasian and East Asian blood. They say this is the reason many retain light-colored skin and hair. In terms of religion, they are primarily Sunni Muslims.
After a period of independence in the 1940s as East Turkestan, the Uyghur republic’s leadership agreed to form a confederation with the new Chinese communist state. But it was not long before Beijing maneuvered the republic into becoming the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region within China.
Rozimukhamet Abdulbakiev, the former head of a Uyghur nongovernmental organization in Kyrgyzstan called Ittipaq (Unity), tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the name of the province is a misnomer.
"Even though China gave Xinjiang the status of an autonomous Uyghur region, there is no sign of autonomy there. There are no rights for Uyghurs there. Nothing," Abdulbakiev says.
"This is a political and social [matter]. The Chinese totalitarian regime has oppressed all freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of personality, freedom of conscience -- that is why, of course, people have risen against it."
Swamped By Immigration
The rioting that took place on July 5 in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, started after reports arrived from southern China that at least two Uyghurs had been killed by ethnic Han Chinese workers in a dispute at a toy factory.
But that was only the tip of the iceberg. The fierceness of the rioting, in which by official count more than 150 people died, points to deeper wellsprings of discontent.
"Why they are so upset at the situation is because, every day, the government brings in hundreds, thousands, of [Han] Chinese into our motherland, East Turkestan -- the Xinjiang autonomous region -- but at the same time our people are sitting without jobs, suffering," says Nizam Sametov of the Uyghur U.K. Association in London.
Sametov asserts that Chinese policy is to offer jobs to Uyghurs elsewhere in China, outside the Xinjiang region, thus reducing the concentration of this ethnic group. On the other hand, in the last five decades, there has been heavy Han immigration, so that today, Uyghurs barely outnumber the immigrants.
But Sametov rejects the vision of Uyghurs becoming a minority in their own homeland.
"Because our land is very rich in minerals, oil, gas, they just keep coming, every day bringing people from inside China to our own land. They hope soon that we will be a small minority, but we won't," Sametov says. "It is our own land."
There have been intermittent acts of violence by underground groups fighting for independence, but they seem to lack popular support.
However, the Chinese authorities have now blamed the separatists for the violence.
"You all know that this incident was caused by people who want to incite conflict, and its roots are deeply political," Chinese Minister for Public Security Meng Jianzhu said in an address to troops and riot police in Urumqi.
"This conflict is between separatists and antiseparatist forces, and is an ongoing political struggle."
Abdulbakiev blames Chinese inflexibility for provoking unrest.
"When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Uzbek states became independent, the Uyghurs became especially eager [to struggle] for their independence with a new strength. This is what we have seen today," Abdulbakiev says.
"If the Chinese government was democratic and if it carried out political reforms, then this kind of harsh resistance would disappear”.
Uyghur activist groups in exile have denied fomenting any trouble within Xinjiang.