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Russia: Analysis From Washington -- 'Among Them But Not Of Them'

  • Paul Goble



Washington, 23 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - President Boris Yeltsin's participation in the G-7 summit is yet another example of the West's decision to include Russia one way or another in an institution for which it does not meet the usual membership requirements.

Earlier, Russia was elected to membership in the Council of Europe even though the Council itself acknowledged and Moscow subsequently admitted that Russia did not meet the requirements for membership.

And as part of the campaign to secure Russian acquiescence in NATO expansion, the Western alliance negotiated a "founding act" that gives Russia a voice if not a veto on alliance activities.

Except for the Council of Europe, Russia has not yet achieved the status of full membership. Instead, it has been given a special role reflecting what the advocates of its inclusion argue is its special status.

Supporters of Russia's inclusion in these Western institutions make three basic arguments. First, they suggest, Russia is simply too large and militarily powerful to ignore, regardless of its objective qualifications.

Second, the Western advocates of including Moscow argue that such participation will help to transform Russia and bring it up to the Western standards of democracy, economic performance and transparency it does not yet meet.

And third, those backing Moscow's presence suggest that failure to include Russia now could backfire, leading to a deterioration in relations between Moscow and the West and to Russian backsliding at home.

These arguments carry enormous weight in many Western capitals, but the inclusion of Russia in institutions for which it does not qualify has at least three other consequences that Western leaders are likely to have to contend with in the future.

First, including Russia on this basis inevitably devalues the principles on which the organizations were built. All other Eastern European countries had to meet stringent membership requirements for inclusion in the Council of Europe.

Moscow's refusal to do so on such questions as the treatment of prisoners and the death penalty even as it demanded membership thus undercuts the influence of these international bodies on others.

Second, including Russia on this basis simultaneously demonstrates to Moscow that petulance works and allows Russia to continue to behave in ways without the constraints to which others are subject or without bringing itself up to membership standards.

By giving in to Russian displays of anger, the West has sent a very strong message that Moscow's still enormous nuclear arsenal gives it the presumptive right to claim membership.

On the one hand, that message reinforces past and present Russian approaches to international affairs rather than moderating them. And on the other, it actually reduces rather than increases the incentives for Russia to change in a positive direction.

And third, including Russia in these institutions often at the behest of the United States reinforces the concerns of many in Europe and even more in Eastern Europe that Washington and Moscow seek to continue to deal with the world on the basis of agreements between them.

These concerns have real consequences: They further reduce American influence credibility in Europe. They give Moscow a status in the region that its currently reduced circumstances don't justify. And they make stability in the countries along Russia's borders more problematic, as leaders there debate how they should react to a situation in which they fear decisions about them have been taken without them.

Obviously, Russia is and will remain a key player in world affairs. And no one, not even in Eastern Europe, is calling on the West to ignore it.

But the ways in which the West does move to include Russia in various forums will have consequences, for these international groups, for the West, and for Russia itself.
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