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NATO, Russia, and the Enemy Wanted

sarkomerkel040308.jpgThe following is an exclusive translation from the German press on the most popular Russia story of the week. Read a summary on our German blog here. Concept of the enemy wanted With the prospect of Ukraine and Georgia for NATO membership Russia ably understands how to split old and new Europe By Klaus-Helge Donath, Die Tageszeitung, April 2, 2008 Munich still gives NATO officials the shivers. At the 2007 Munich Security Conference, President Vladimir Putin gave the West a vociferous dressing down. The Kremlin boss formulated what had long ago become the guiding principle of Russian foreign policy: controlled confrontation with the West. The NATO leadership this time refused to tolerate such crassness, and the Kremlin is said to have given assurances of its good behaviour.

Already in the run-up to the NATO summit in Bucharest, gentler tones were heard from Moscow. After a year and a half long blockade, air traffic with NATO hopeful Georgia was resumed. In a conspicuously quiet fashion, Gazprom-Kremlin reached an agreement with Ukraine over gas supplies and prices. And in the end, Putin, who is leaving office in May, invited U.S. President George W. Bush to Sochi for a flying visit after the NATO summit. There, it is rumoured, a new strategic framework paper could even be signed.But the clear intervention on the part of Bush and some eastern NATO states on behalf of the Ukraine’s integration in the action plan for NATO accession is putting strains on the relations with Russia. He would “strongly” support an application, said Bush during his visit with President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine in Kiev.Putin’s foreign policy legacy is in a bad way. Moscow has strained relations with 11 of 17 bordering countries. But Putin also has allies: France as well as the German chancellor and her foreign minister are foiling the admission of Ukraine and Georgia into the Membership Action Plan.Moscow includes the two former Soviet republics in Russia’s sphere of influence. Ukraine is perceived as the actual cradle of Russia, while Christian Georgia has ensured Moscow’s supremacy in the Caucasus for 200 years. The drifting away of both states makes quite clear the collapse of the Russian empire. With the colour revolutions in Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004), geo-political rejection was followed by the renunciation of authoritarian rule, for which the Putin era stands. Even if the alliance advances closer to Russia’s borders, NATO is not a serious military threat for the armed forces – more a paper tiger, something the Kremlin sometimes tears to pieces for domestic purposes, sometimes sets on fire.No one is afraid of the alliance: To the contrary, as long as U.S. soldiers are in Georgia, there will be peace there, and in Afghanistan as well, NATO is fulfilling tasks that serve Russian interests. Only the loss of importance antagonizes Moscow. And the calculus behind its manoeuvring to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from being admitted to NATO seems to be bearing fruit: just as it ably plays interests within the European Union against one another, it is using the contradictions between old and new Europe and the United States.As a quid pro quo for rejecting Ukraine, Moscow is luring NATO with permission to allow supplies to Afghanistan to pass over Russian territory. A world power that is conscious of its responsibilities – something Russia pretends to be – ought to be interested in this without the horse trading. Especially as the Russian southern flank is weak. If the NATO aspirants are left outside the gates, then Moscow can book a victory for itself. It has had repeated success with extortion. Behind the Kremlin walls, officials are smirking and chuckling over German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s appeasement. That’s why Moscow also does not take the European Union and Berlin seriously. The way Russians understand things, making concessions, approaching the rival is a sign of weakness and European softness. The people in the Kremlin get along better with the Texan cowboys in the language of Realpolitik. Even if Russia talks about a “multi-polar world order” and “respect” in the international arena, that applies exclusively to the respect of others for Russia, not the other way around.In one thing, however, Russia is right. It makes little sense to integrate Ukraine into NATO if only 30 percent of the population supports the idea. In Georgia, 70 percent of the population voted for accession. Suspension of the Membership Action Plan should be replaced by an alternative model that leads Kiev to western structures despite everything. Anything else would send the wrong signal. Ukraine’s integration into the West would in the long term also bring with it the opening of Russia. That is precisely what the political leadership in Moscow would like to prevent. The concept of NATO as the enemy is needed at home so that the leadership can go on leading its own people around by the nose and fleecing it thoroughly.