Getting Russia right by Jonathan Power
Lund, Sweden, August 7, 2015
Even today in many different ways the US and Russia remain close.
There is cooperation in space, not least the International Space Station. The US regularly hires Russian rockets to launch its crews to the Station and to launch satellites. Russia sells advanced rocket engines to the US. Russia allows war material en route to Afghanistan to pass through its territory on Russian trains.
Russia worked hand in glove with the US to successfully remove the large stocks of chemical weapons possessed by Syria. It shares intelligence on Muslim extremists including ISIS. Conceivably it could enter the battle against ISIS.
It has encouraged Western investment including joint oil exploration of the Artic. Recently it stood side by side with the US and the EU as they forged an agreement with Iran on its nuclear industry.
At the UN Security Council Russia and the US voted together for a resolution approving the agreement.
President Barack Obama phoned President Vladimir Putin to thank him.
US diplomats are now conceding that Russia’s claim that the neo-fascist so-called “Right Sector” in Ukraine is wrecking havoc is true.
The Right Sector in the eyes of many was a key – and violent – element in the success of last year’s Maidan demonstrations that toppled President Viktor Yanukovich.
When the Russian, French and German foreign ministers hammered out an agreement with the support of Ukraine’s parliamentary opposition for Yanukovich to step down at the next election the West totally “forgot” about it in the next few days as the Maidan demonstators drove Yanukovich into exile.
Washington and other Western capitals supported the “democratic revolution” rather than demanding the fulfillment of the agreement. No wonder Putin was livid.
What is now needed in Western capitals is an acknowledgement that they have not always got Russia and Putin right.
For example in the Ossetian war/Georgian war in 2008 Russia was accused of starting it.
In fact, as is now widely accepted in the West, it was Georgia’s bombing of the South Ossetian capital that triggered the war.
Today many Western observers believe that the degree of Russia’s intervention in the Donbass in eastern Ukraine is grossly overstated.
Not long ago the American commanding general in NATO warned that Russia was about to invade, an ill-informed or deceitful (depending on one’s perspective) viewpoint that was quickly shot down by the head of French intelligence.
Back in 1999 NATO’s bombing of Belgrade which led to an independent Kosovo went against international law – the illegality of invasion when the invaders were not themselves under threat.
Russia at the UN voted against this campaign, arguing that changing a country’s boundaries by force was illegal.
If the West had not waged its Kosovo campaign it is probable that Russia would never have taken over Crimea.
Russian paranoia was understandable when the second Russian-Chechen war broke out.
Many powerful Washington insiders ignored the jihadi nature of the Chechen invasion of neighbouring Dagestan, focusing only on Russian violations of human rights.
Yet today emirs, controlling perhaps as much as 80% of the Caucasus Emirate mujahedin, have declared their loyalty to ISIS.
In 2011 Russia abstained on a resolution at the UN Security Council which authorized a Western initiative to use its air forces to attack those pro the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi in order to save civilians from being massacred.
In fact the Western powers went far beyond their UN mandate and fought to bring down Qaddafi.
This led to the present chaos in Libya which is reducing the new “free” state to anarchy and seems to have no end in sight.
Russia felt it had been double-crossed which, indeed, it had.
Gordan Hahn, the Russian watcher, who once was a Senior Associate of Washington’s prestigious Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes: “All this demonstrates again the utter futility in expanding NATO into Russia’s fear of influence (breaking a solemn agreement made with Russia).
It undermines Western security in two respects. It has alienated Russia and transformed it into the West’s “greatest geo-political foe” that the Republican presidential candidates misconceptualize. Second, it runs directly contrary to the requirements of an effective global fight in the war against jihadism, which must include all major powers in a robustly institutionalized alliance.”
Of course Putin on occasion is boorish and heavy-handed but it is no surprise that Putin has overwhelming support in his confrontation with the West.
I believe the opinion polls which show him in the high 80% of approval.
In the last 9 months I have walked the streets of Russia on three visits doing my own amateur poll.
Russia responds to the policies and actions of the West.
It is always the West that makes the first move on the chessboard.
Russia has developed, writes Hahn, “carefully thought out plans designed to defeat the West, regardless of what the West may or may not do”.
© Jonathan Power
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See also Jonathan Power’s review of Richard Sakwa’s pathbreaking analysis “Frontline Ukraine. Crisis in the Borderlands” – Appallingly, we in the West have been more misled than the Russians.
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