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Financial Times: Engage Russia with realpolitik, not rhetoric

Below I am posting today’s leader from the Financial Times entitled “Engage Russia with realpolitik, not rhetoric.” The article contains nothing that is rationally objectionable, however it uses the wrong terms to describe the right idea, completely abdicating the important role that international legal norms and treaties must play in Russia’s foreign relations. I do not believe that the FT is using the term “realpolitik” to provide a cover excuse for unabated energy imperialism or the recent extortion of foreign oil and gas companies in Russia. Surely what they mean to say is that the United States, Europe, and Russia should be dealing with each other on the basis of an identifiable legal and political framework, grounded in international law and treaties (such as the European Energy Charter), which would build trust among all sides and provide a more solid basis for evaluating each other’s conduct. A rule-based system is needed in order to help guide expectations, and decrease the current level of uncertainty in Russia’s foreign relations. With this understood, the problem is not “an explosion of rhetoric,” but rather the gap between perceptions created by a distinct lack of organization and coherence in the West’s approach to Russia. So many voices in the Russia debate have been asking if a new Cold War has begun, but that’s not really the point. We need to be asking at what point the United States, Europe, and Russia itself abandoned the hard work toward cooperation as promised under the Charter of Paris? The Cold War didn’t end overnight, and many of the commitments have been derailed by so-called “realpolitik.” Today the United States and Europe have to be strong and tough with Russia on its own terms, and create the necessary incentives to bring this increasingly distant partner back into the fold. From the FT:

Engage Russia with realpolitik, not rhetoric US and Russian officials have done well to defuse the recent row over Washington’s plans to place missile defence sites in eastern Europe and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s -outspoken attack on US “unilateralism”. The world does not need a new cold war, or even cold war-style rhetoric, when there are so many global issues that would benefit from better co-operation between Washington and Moscow. As was demonstrated in the collaboration between the US, Russia and China in the deal over North Korea’s nuclear programme, the world’s powers have much to gain by working together on security. With the wider Middle East in crisis, much more remains to be done that can only be done by co-operation. Washington must recognise that its unilateralist security policies raise suspicions elsewhere. It is reasonable for Russia to question US plans to site interceptor missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. American officials argue these defences are not directed against Russia but against rogue states such as Iran, which yesterday claimed it had fired a missile into space. However, Moscow is entitled to raise questions, especially as there are doubts about both the capacity of rogue states to develop effective intercontinental missiles and the US’s ability to shoot them down. The US, like any nation, is entitled to prioritise its own security. It is also justified in responding to perceived threats by tapping its huge military and technological resources. But it must bear in mind that riding roughshod over the security concerns of others – especially Russia, a former superpower – breeds insecurities which could make the world less safe for all, the US included. The fight against state-sponsored terrorism – whether from Iran or elsewhere – is one that should unite the US and Russia. But Moscow is a difficult partner. It is trying to recover from the loss of the Soviet empire by reasserting its authority in the region. As well as using energy as a political weapon it is resorting to cruder means such as recent remarks about targeting nuclear missiles at the proposed Czech and Polish bases. Threats to pull out of arms control treaties reassure nobody. How can Moscow hope to make common cause against extra-European threats such as global terrorism while aggravating divisions within Europe? The Kremlin’s authoritarian domestic policies also generate insecurity. Democracy is the globe’s most stable and secure form of government. Mr Putin’s assault on Russian democracy, including his ruthless plan to win victory for a hand-picked successor in next year’s presidential election, is potentially seriously destabilising for Russia and for its neighbours. However, even if Russia is a far from ideal global partner, the US must do what it can to work with Moscow on global security. Realpolitik, not rhetoric, is the key.