As the conflict in Chechnya dominates discussions at the OSCE summit in Istanbul, Russian media are talking of a "new Cold War." RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini talks to a Russian political analyst about the deepening mistrust between Russia and the West.
Prague, 18 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- International calls to put an end to civilian casualties in Chechnya first sparked Russian indignation about foreign intervention in its domestic affairs. But increasingly for many Russian commentators, the issue at stake is becoming not Chechnya, but a more primal dispute: Russia vs. the West.
Over the past several weeks, government-influenced television and newspapers have been churning out anti-Western rhetoric. These media commentators say the West has masterminded a plan to bring Russia to its knees by compromising Russia's interests in the Caucasus and practicing financial blackmail. Recently, the same media accused former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov of conspiring with the United States to overthrow current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by sabotaging his Chechen policy.
A Russian government representative told RFE/RL last week that the government considers this information to be, in her words, "close to the truth."
Sergey Rogov is the director of the USA and Canada Institute, a Russian think-tank. He tells RFE/RL that the tension between Russia and the West over the conflict in Chechnya is worsening relations that were already strained by NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia and Russia's financial problems. He says these events have heightened mutual distrust. But contrary to the view of some Russian commentators, Rogov says the tension is not beneficial for the West.
"You can be sure that in the case of a confrontation with the West, neither market reforms nor political democracy could hold for long in Russia. And it would be silly for the West to make Russia into a new geopolitical opponent, some sort of Weimar Russia that could become China's strategic partner. But today other ideas are dominant in the United States, because a lot of illusions [they had about] Russia failed to come true. So today, they want to show more toughness."
Rogov says that one of the most urgent issues at hand is a rethinking of arms control treaties. He explains why Russia seeks to amend the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (CFE), which Moscow has violated by sending troops and weaponry into Chechnya.
"The CFE treaty was supposed to regulate and support an ideal parity between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. But the Warsaw Pact disappeared a long time ago. Because of inertia, both sides kept the limits, but [today] they lack all rational grounds. For example, why can Belarus have 1.5 times more tanks on its territory than France? And the treaty includes only half of the European countries. With such a composition it cannot be a basis for European peace and security. For example, in case of NATO enlargement, if the Baltic states or the Scandinavian states enter into the alliance, [those states] wouldn't fall under any limits."
Rogov says the Russian violation of the CFE's limits for the Caucasian flank is also a Cold War leftover, because such flank limitations have disappeared almost everywhere else with the redrawing of borders in Europe.
But he says the danger is that the growing tensions could lead to a complete destruction of carefully constructed disarmament systems.
"If next summer Clinton's administration takes such a step as to announce the deployment of a national anti-ballistic missile system, it would probably automatically provoke Russia to step out of the START-ONE treaty. [There are all] the more chances that this could happen since it will be on the eve of a Russian presidential election. So such a reaction looks very probable. The whole arms control regime could break into pieces."
Far from siding with the advocates of a Western conspiracy against Russia, Rogov thinks that the United States, in its foreign policy, has not been taking into account domestic politics in Russia ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections. And Rogov says that Russian authorities that are classified as reformers do not hesitate to use propaganda techniques that sometimes surpass the Soviets.
"There's an electoral campaign going on here in Russia. There is the wish to heap [everything] on the West -- the failure of interior reforms and all our problems from corruption to Chechnya. And to present the West as some kind of eternal enemy of Russia. I hope that in Istanbul [at the OSCE summit], the state leaders will be guided by other ideas than political conjecture. Both in Russia and in the West, radical circles don't play a key role [in politics]. And actually I'm worried about the fact that some of our leaders who were known as the brightest reformers with tight links in the U.S. and with unlimited support from the West are all of a sudden thinking out loud like [Vladimir] Zhirinovsky. [They're] branding with infamy and accusing of betrayal everyone who expresses doubt about the political and military tactics applied in Chechnya."
Rogov explains that Russians saw NATO's intervention in Kosovo as an act that destroyed the whole post-Cold War logic that regional problems can only be solved peacefully. The message Russia got, he says, is that now you can also solve problems by using a big stick.