Streetwise Professor

May 15, 2009

Stephen Blank Is Priceless

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:57 pm

Chicago PhD and Army War College Prof Stephen Blank is one of my favorite historians of Russia, and also one of my favorite commentors on contemporary Russia.  His contribution to today’s Russia Profile Expert’s Panel is worth quoting in full:

Frolov’s solicitude for the EU’s workload is touching, but his analysis and questions reveal so much about Russian misperceptions of the EU that we could write a long article or book about the subject.  

First of all, his remarks betray Russia’s belief that there should be no European security organizations other than itself in the former Soviet space, in other words—that these are not fully sovereign states and should belong to Russia’s sphere of influence.  

This point of view runs up against the fact that none of these states is prepared to sell its sovereignty to Russia, and that they have the right to seek whatever partnerships they please and with whomever they choose to do so. Secondly, he, like many other Russian analysts, still fails to understand that the EU has always been a security organization, not just a bureaucratic contrivance. In this he, like they, fails to grasp the transatlantic bargain, to use Harlan Cleveland’s term, a major part of which is the project of European integration embodied in the EU.  

Thirdly, he fails to acknowledge that the EU is not bound by Russia’s “Sacro Egoismo,” the belief that its security interests, as defined by Moscow, take precedence over everyone else’s in Europe.  

He also fails to acknowledge the years of valiant effort by the EU to deal with Moscow as a strategic partner, only to be shown by Moscow that it counts for nothing in Moscow’s eyes – take the unilateral Russian violation of the Medvedev-Sarkozy truce plan for last year’s war against Georgia, for example.    

Neither will he admit that Russia has done everything possible to split the membership of the EU, to fracture its unity, and in general to play a political game more apropos to 1809 than to 2009. Undoubtedly, Russia will try to retaliate because it cannot admit the legitimacy of any foreign presence in the CIS, or accept that other CIS states might want and need this new partnership. As for NATO membership or enlargement, that is a dead issue for now, given the domestic situation in Georgia and Ukraine. But once again, should they choose to join NATO and meet the qualifying conditions, there is no reason in principle why they should not be admitted.  

Russia obviously wants to continue to believe that the NATO of today is the NATO of 1955, and that these former Soviet states have no right to join because it will be offended. But it cannot make its proposal for European security and simultaneously demand a sphere of influence where its security is superior to that of other states, especially as the language of its appeal says that nobody should enhance security at another’s expense.

This is the Russian definition that suits the internal and psychological needs of a ruling elite that cannot rule by means other than predation and neo-imperialism. It is hardly an accident that virtually every East European and post-Soviet state, and even states like Pakistan, have recently furnished evidence or claimed that Russia is conniving to destabilize them. Given that clear evidence, why shouldn’t these states seek partnership with Brussels and why shouldn’t Brussels, which, after all, has equally good evidence of the Russian policy, reply affirmatively?

Couldn’t agree more.

Also worth reading, but for completely different reasons, is the contribution to the panel of Vladimir Baleaff, of the Global Security Institute who apparently believes that the Great Northern War is still going on, with Sweden and Poland threatening poor, besieged and beset Russia.  A perfect example of the mindset that I discussed in today’s earlier post, and an excellent foil to Blank’s analysis.

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  1. Russia has just stood alone against every single other member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to veto the presence of impartial OSCE observers along its disputed border with Georgia. Not even the likes of Belarus and Kazakhstan would support Russia’s neo-Soviet defiance of international law, based on a blackmail demand for recognition of Ossetia that not one major nation of the world has seriously considered making.

    This is barbarism, pure and simple, no different than what we saw from the USSR. Russia demands cooperation from the United States, yet it has no fear of acting unilaterially itself. It demands freedom for Ossetia, imposes enslavement on Chechnya. It is a barbaric nation desroying itself just as the USSR did.

    NATO overwhelmingly outguns Russia and the EU overwhelmingly outspends it. Russia can act in defiance of their wishes only because they are riddled with cowards. It is time for the Europeans to do the right thing.

    Comment by La Russophobe — May 16, 2009 @ 9:39 am

  2. La Russophobe, I mostly agree with you, except a few minor details.

    Behavior of Russian government is perfectly logical and rational, however strange it might sound.
    Here is why.

    There are two basic approaches with regard to economic policy.

    1. To act in the interests of the nation, where nation is defined as the society as a whole.
    2. To act in the interests of the ruling class.

    At the present time the ruling class acts in the interests of… well, ruling class.
    For example, there is a housing problem in Russia. Decent housing is not affordable.
    The ruling elite does not really care, except to promise a Russian equivalent of a pie in the sky by the year 2020. It’s always on the horizon, and the horizon keeps moving far away.
    The ruling class is getting richer, but ordinary Russians are not.

    People are not happy. You have to redirect their attention to something else.
    The best way to redirect their attention is to keep brainwashing going, that the West wants to capture the vast riches of the motherland, and all that bull. A positive side effect might be that stupid West will get scared and stops enlargement of Russia.
    And it’s perfectly rational and logical, – if you put yourself in their shoes. It’s not that I’m defending their policies. Just my opinion of their logic. And my opinion is based on understanding of Russian mentality.

    Then again, I might be wrong, and in reality more important factors are at work.
    I’m an easy person to deal with. I easily admit that I’m wrong, – when I’m wrong.
    I just can’t stand Russian agents like sublime, but my communication with him is rather an exception.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 16, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  3. Correction.
    A positive side effect might be that stupid West will get scared and stops enlargement of NATO (not Russia).

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 16, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

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