asiaNet Eurasia Insight
Meanwhile, in London, Tony Blair--perhaps Putin's heartiest Western supporter (and certainly his most frequent host and guest)--called for the creation of a new Russia-NATO council to bring Moscow into much closer partnership with the West's defense organization. That institution would evidently raise Russia's status beyond the merely consultative role it plays in the NATO Permanent Joint Council, which was set up in 1997.
Putin was thus able to return to Russia with good old-fashioned Cold War military reasons for satisfaction--a reduction in the threat posed by the West, resulting in greater parity between two great nuclear powers--and with the possibility of a post-post-Cold War coup, in the form of partnership with and greater access to NATO. It seems Putin has delivered something to be proud of.
But maybe not: While Putin's visit again put Russia's potential military might at center stage, the reality at home is somewhat different--especially after 10 years of both neglect combined with greater media access than was possible during the Cold War. This past week's offerings from the press included a report from the Associated Press that a site in Chechnya that was used as a radioactive dump between 1965 and 1992 emits radiation strong enough to kill a person within days--and until a month ago had not been guarded. The one old man who now sits there is hardly a deterrent to anyone interested in and capable of making crude radiological weapons. Another story, carried by regions.ru, concerned the effort by activists in Krasnoyarsk to prepare a referendum on the storage of nuclear waste in the krai (region). These days, nuclear arms are as much a symbol of Russia's weakness as its potency: As these stories show, there is nothing to be proud of in the dereliction of its nuclear-management duty and the pursuit of relatively easy money regardless of the country's ability to protect public health.
Still, if this new chumminess between Putin and the West's war leaders restores a measure of pride and self-confidence, perhaps allowing the Russians to look beyond military rivalry, open up to partnership at various levels, and reduce or end the perception of the East-West relationship as a zero-sum game, those will be positive results. The sense of being slighted by recent history is a blight on Russia's attitude. It is not easy for any nation--let alone one with Russia's rich history--to come to terms with its fall in the world.
An attempt to compensate for its feebleness is surely one reason Russia so often seems to claim an almost automatic right to a seat at the high table--at the G7, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, and now the World Trade Organization (WTO)--yet shows little interest in meeting the conditions. These are not institutions where the right to a place should be measured by the crude Cold War yardsticks of size and military power. So far, size, power, and the West's fear and concern have given Russia an entry ticket to all of them except the WTO--but judged by the usual criteria, Russia falls short on many counts.
The G7's basic gauge is the size of a country's economy; the Council of Europe requires members to sign on to legal conventions (170 or so); the OSCE exhorts members to comply with fundamental principles, including human and minority rights and the development of democratic institutions; and the WTO demands a raft of legislation aimed at creating a more open economy and a less capricious business environment.
The evidence of Russia's progress this past week was not especially compelling. First, China took its place in the WTO at the Doha summit--that is, a still nominally communist country beat a decade-old democracy in enacting market-economy legislation. Second, the perennial questions about Russia's ability to supply its citizens with heat through the winter months again surfaced, casting a depressing spotlight on the country's economic and managerial failings. And on 13 November, an ITAR-TASS news report on the OSCE mission in Chechnya underlined Russia's confrontational attitude when held to account--and the principles gap between it and European institutions. ITAR-TASS quoted unnamed "ranking experts," who called the OSCE mission "neither balanced nor objective" and "a source of disinformation" that makes "tendentious" and unfounded claims about Russian brutality.
The OSCE's monitoring, said its critics, apparently "boils down to unfounded criticism of the federal authorities because it draws on biased assessments of various non-governmental organizations and information agencies, not [on] reports of official Russian representatives. Still, there was at least one important step this week: For the first time in two years, representatives of Putin and of Chechnya's elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, talked peace face to face.
So, for the military-minded, Russia may be entering a post-post-Cold War relationship with the United States and its Western allies. But, judging by other measures of performance, commitment, and adherence to principles, the real evidence of a new post-post-Cold War Russia will come when Russia truly sets about justifying its seats at the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the G7 as well as its future place in the WTO. Pride in times of war may come from military power; reasons for self-satisfaction in times of peace should come from putting one's own house in order.