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Kissinger’s Russia Boosterism

iran.russia.putin.jpgkissingerputin1.jpg Yesterday we linked to a column by Stephen F. Cohen, which appeared as part of a three-part opinion feature on Russia in the IHT. The other two columns were contributed by Russia’s Ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, whose political party is not without controversy, and Henry Kissinger, who has recently stepped up his boosterism of U.S.-Russia cooperation in columns and television interviews. Both Cohen and Kissinger raise important truths about the current changes occurring in Russia, and as one blogger has pointed out, whenever a lefty historian and hardline Republican realist join in their opinions, something very peculiar is happening. Although I believe it is still early to display the kind of euphoric optimism we see in these articles, there is a strong argument that some Western attitudes toward Russia need to change in a constructive and coherent way. But how?

Consistent with past statements, Kissinger sees an important opportunity: “I encountered no Russian in or out of government who doubted that some kind of redistribution of power is taking place, although they were uncertain of its outcome.” However he is not in favor of any type of activist, evangelistic engagement with Russia, or other Washington projects of shoving democracy down the throats of the public – which Kissinger believes creates resentment and fuels nationalism and confrontation, rather than democratic opening. Kissinger’s advice: that the United States adopt a position of “patience and historical understanding” and that the West be more sensitive to Moscow’s opposition to the integration of the Ukraine in the Western security architecture.Kissinger’s pleas for sensitivity are vague, and could be easily mishandled and exploited. His call for greater understanding makes sense, and this is where the shift in attitude should occur. I do not mean to say any values should be diminished nor problems overlooked, but we need to consider a stronger focus on the possible incentives of market access and openness which would await Medvedev’s Russia, once the new administration can sincerely show commitment to rule of law, both domestically and with respect to its international obligations in areas such as energy.Missing from the security-focused debate on U.S.-Russia relations (and missing in both Cohen and Kissinger’s columns) is any discussion on the present asymmetry of economic opportunity, the failing battle against corruption, and the erosion of national institutions which has taken place during the two Putin administrations. This has not yet reversed course, and we are all still waiting for signs that it will. A foreign policy discussion that fails to internalize the true nature of power in the Kremlin, complete with clan struggles and the private agendas of state-related industry, will not get very far in terms of divining the what this government wants to achieve and how it would be persuaded to work with the United States on issues like Iran.