Playing Realpolitik Solitaire

belarus020409.jpgThat seems to be the message from Moscow today, with the announcement of a vaguely-worded joint missile missile defense alliance with Belarus, consisting of five air force units and 10 air-defense missile units, which officials say will be focused on increasing the two country’s ability to monitor their airspace.

But other observers see it as a rather meaningless agreement, designed to throw some rhetorical weight into what is seen as a fading relationship.  Given that Belarus has drifted slightly toward the West over the past year (and I do only mean slightly) with the release of some political prisoners (but then arresting some more later) and other attempts to reach out to improve relations, Moscow may be getting a bit worried at the idea of losing Belarus.

This sense of quiet panic is visible elsewhere. 

Coinciding with the Belarus-Russia joint missile defense effort, wealso have a security summit with the former Soviet states of CentralAsia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) along withproxies in Belarus and Armenia, to form a joint rapid reaction force,placing 10,000 soldiers under unified command.  Although the Kremlinwas successful in convincing Kyrgyzstan to close down its air base usedby the U.S. (a critical supply route to Afghanistan), there are othersigns that some Central Asian states – such as Uzbekistan – are showinginterest in re-starting relations with the West, undoubtedly raisingsome paranoia in the Kremlin.

As Alexandr Golts writes, “At first glance it would appear that, in fullaccordance with the Kremlin’s realpolitik, the entire territory of theformer Soviet Union has been turned into one giant chessboard on whichthe battle between Moscow and Washington is being played out. The onlyproblem is that in this match, there is only one player and he seems tobe carrying out some complex maneuver aimed at himself. 

Golts describes Russia as playing a game of realpolitik solitaire,which leaves one wondering what exactly they are attempting to achieve.

Photo:  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev,left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko seen during ameeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009. Russia andBelarus were set to boost their military ties Tuesday by signing a dealto form a joint air defense system.(AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service