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The Cold War Dance Continues

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    The West and Russia are continuing their worn-out Cold War dance routine Plus ça change Eric Walberg As antagonists United States President George W Bush and
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2008
      The West and Russia are continuing their worn-out Cold War dance routine

      Plus ça change
      Eric Walberg

      As antagonists United States President George W Bush and his Russian
      counterpart Vladimir Putin both begin ceding power to others, one
      would expect new political horizons to open up. Bush already looks
      more like a footnote than a leader, with the US focussing on McCain vs
      Clinton/Obama, leaving the failed president a classic lame duck. Putin
      is introducing his successor Dmitri Medvedev to the subtleties of
      power politics, with Western analysts slavering over hints in his
      biography of liberalism and even a rejection of Putin's clear
      anti-imperialist foreign politics. But this appearance of change
      belies the reality.

      As the recent anniversary of the US debacle in Iraq underlined, the US
      is in its sixth year of a brutal and illegal occupation and will
      remain there for years to come, no matter who is president, and in its
      seventh year in an even worse nightmare in Afghanistan, which no
      president can afford to abandon despite the obvious failure there.

      Things are a bit different in Russia. No electoral chaos and public
      linen washing. And despite the wishful thinking of pundits, its
      foreign policy appears to be continuing the independent, self-assured
      path that Putin gave it: no to US missile bases in Eastern Europe, no
      to a war against Iran, no to Kosovo.

      There are nuances though; notably, a flurry of talks in Moscow between
      US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert
      Gates and their Russian counterparts prior to the 2-4 April NATO
      meeting in Romania. They rushed to Moscow to negotiate a "strategic
      framework" on policy issues such as trade, counter-terrorism and
      nuclear proliferation. This looks suspiciously like window-dressing,
      as there has been no movement on the key disagreements over US missile
      bases and the fate of Kosovo. Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov made
      it very clear: "In principle our positions have not changed."
      Interestingly, the Americans discretely limited their talks with
      opposition figures, bypassing the likes of Gary Kasparov and even
      Human Rights Watch activist Tatyana Lokshina, whom Rice met with last
      year, and who said, "I can't say why she didn't meet us this time, but
      frankly it's very disappointing. It sends a signal to the Russian
      government." Very much so.

      As for NATO, according to US Under-Secretary of State for Political
      Affairs Nicholas Burns, it is suffering an "existential crisis", which
      Jean-Paul Sartre might find amusing. Bush has pushed seven
      ex-Socialist bloc states into NATO during his tenure and is eager to
      make this a metric dozen with Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. It also
      has "roadmaps" for Ukraine and Georgia to get them on a quick entry
      ramp into this peculiar alliance. But Europe is having trouble
      digesting all these new dishes -- Greece doesn't want Macedonia for
      purely Greek reasons, Germany doesn't want Ukraine and Georgia for
      very good Russian reasons. It's not at all clear that anyone besides
      Bush really wants basket-case Albania among the big boys. Many argue
      that the alliance has actually become weaker with all the new members,
      as individual states -- with the notable exception of the US --
      quietly reduce their own defence spending. Gates warned recently that
      NATO was becoming a two-tiered alliance, with some brave stalwarts and
      a lot of cowards.

      Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Social Democratic foreign
      minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is publicly calling for the EU to
      take on its traditional role of mediator between America and Russia.
      French President Nicolas Sarkozy now shows his concern for Russian
      "sensibilities", and his Socialist foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner,
      insists that Moscow must now "have the place that belongs to it." Even
      Russophobe Merkel realises the folly of inducting Ukraine and Georgia
      into NATO. As if to draw a line in the sand, the Russian Duma just
      voted unanimously (440-0) for the recognition of Georgian provinces
      Abhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

      As for hopes that Medvedev will abandon Putin's legacy, a careful
      reading of his record shows that he is actually taking the Putin
      revolution to its logical conclusion, with his intent on streamlining
      the government, promoting rule by law, supporting business through
      infrastructure development and market-friendly policies, emphasising
      the need to nurture NGOs to replace Soviet-style state provision of
      all services.

      Complementing the words of Steinmeier, he has proposed that the EU
      look to its own experience in the early post-WWII period of
      reconstruction, when the European Coal and Steel Community laid the
      vital ground work for the EU itself, bringing enemy states together.
      He has offered an "asset swap" that will guarantee energy security for
      the entire continent as "the best form of partnership". Russian
      investment in refinery and distribution in Europe in exchange for
      European investment in oil and gas extraction in Russia would create a
      "virtuous cycle", engendering economic efficiency and security
      throughout the continent. Medvedev's message is clear, and
      irrefutable: security is enhanced when countries share risk, not when
      they build walls and rattle missiles.

      This is day to the night of US "might makes right" that unfortunately
      seems to infect anyone who gets near the White House these days. So
      while the superpower dance of death continues, there is that other
      Cold War partner -- détente -- waiting in the wings, if only the US
      can remove its neo-con blinkers. Europe is already waiting for its
      tune to change. And we can only hope such a détente will be followed
      by a perestroika -- this time in the US.

      Perhaps all this is best encapsulated in the respective attitudes of
      the US and Russia towards the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC)
      expressed during its recent meeting in Senegal. For the first time,
      the US sent a PR envoy, Sada Cumber, a smooth Pakistani-born
      businessman from Texas, to promote understanding with Muslim
      countries. Rice explained: "the notion that the US is at war with
      Islam is simply propagated by violent extremists who seek to divide
      Muslim communities against themselves." Cumber admitted that he hadn't
      made much headway in Dakar.

      In contrast, Russia actually wants to join the OIC -- its Muslim
      population is larger than that of several Asian and African Muslim
      states -- "to enhance cooperation with Islamic nations", according to
      Russian Ambassador at Large Veniamin Popov. Russia continues to work
      within international bodies and observe international laws, while the
      US continues to bully and schnooze the world to follow one of its many

      Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at



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