Streetwise Professor

April 16, 2008

All Gall, No Sugar

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:45 am

Vladimir Socor provides more evidence that Russia intends to bully Ukraine and Georgia into staying out of NATO. Putin and Lavrov, so sensitive to Russian territorial integrity, have more than once made irredentist threats against Ukraine, most notably making aggressive noises about eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. Important Duma members have mooted the possibility of renouncing the 1997 Russia-Ukraine interstate treaty guaranteeing the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders. On cue, Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, General Yuriy Baluyevsky, threatened military actions. With respect to Georgia, Putin and Russia have made it very clear of their intention to exacerbate tensions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Some in Russia–even some close to the Kremlin–recognize that this is foolish, and more likely to drive Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO, rather than make them rethink their desire to join the alliance:

Some Kremlin consultants regard those open threats as counterproductive to Russia’s interests and purposes. Vyacheslav Nikonov (himself no stranger to questioning the territorial integrity of Russia’s neighbors) argues, for example, that Moscow’s rhetoric in the wake of NATO’s summit can only strengthen the resolve of governments in neighboring countries to seek protection from NATO (Interfax, April 11, 12). Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (CFRS), a Kremlin advisory body, told the CFRS’s conference just held in Moscow that political measures would be more effective than military measures against Ukraine and Georgia if they moved closer to NATO. He recommended discretion and quiet planning for deploying such measures at an appropriate time (Interfax, April 12).

The Georgian and Ukrainian governments are not intimidated. Georgia’s Parliament Chair Nino Burjanadze, Minister of Foreign Affairs Davit Bakradze, and other officials have rejected such “interstate blackmail” and reaffirmed Georgia’s irreversible “national choice” to join NATO. These and other Georgian officials describe Moscow’s threats to Georgia and Ukraine as added vindication of the two governments’ goal to join NATO (Civil Georgia, Rustavi-2 TV, April 8-12).

In statements on April 9 and 11, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Moscow’s questioning of Ukraine’s territorial integrity was “unacceptable” under international law. It asked the Russian government to observe the 1997 Russia-Ukraine interstate treaty, which also stipulated refraining from threats of using force (Interfax-Ukraine, April 12). Verkhovna Rada Chairman Arseny Yatseniuk called those threats “inexcusable,” and the Rada’s national security and defense committee chairman Anatoly Hrytsenko (a leading proponent of NATO membership) noted that Baluyevski’s ideas merely reflected those of Russia’s top political leadership (Interfax-Ukraine, April 11).

This is all pretty obvious. So obvious, in fact, that one wonders why Putin et al haven’t figured it out. Perhaps they only know one method to get their way; force and threats of force. This works admirably to intimidate their internal opponents to comply with their demands, but is ill-suited to the international stage. Putin’s internal opponents have no one to turn to because there is no alternative source of power within Russia. Ukraine and Georgia can find succor in NATO–the very thing that Putin wants to prevent. So, his chosen means are calculated to achieve the very opposite ends that he intends. It is very strange indeed that he and his henchmen are so limited in their imagination that they cannot see that their bluster is self-defeating.

There is another interesting tidbit in a RFE-RL article on the same subject:

During Ukraine’s 2004-05 Orange Revolution, Putin personally intervened on the side of then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who led the “anti-Orange” camp. The failure of that heavy-handed intervention was presented around the world, including in Russia and Ukraine, as a major foreign-policy fiasco for Moscow. Media reports at the time indicated that the failed effort in Ukraine was coordinated by Putin’s then chief of staff, Dmitry Medvedev.

Rather difficult to square this “heavy-handed intervention” (which included poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko with dioxin) with Medvedev’s “liberal” image, dontcha think? He was either a willing collaborator who agreed with the ends and the means, or he was just Putin’s tool faithfully carrying out orders he found objectionable on either pragmatic or moral grounds. Either way, this history does not suggest that a Medvedev presidency in Putin’s shadow will result in a noticeable change in Russian foreign policy.

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