Monday, September 01, 2014


The West Needs To Make Up For Past Mistakes On Russia

Tsygankov says it's time for the West to recognize the link between its actions in the Balkans and instability in the CaucasusTsygankov says it's time for the West to recognize the link between its actions in the Balkans and instability in the Caucasus
Tsygankov says it's time for the West to recognize the link between its actions in the Balkans and instability in the Caucasus
Tsygankov says it's time for the West to recognize the link between its actions in the Balkans and instability in the Caucasus
By Andrei Tsygankov
Against its best intentions, the United States is pushing the Kremlin to take the harshest possible steps in defense of its perceived interests. The recent crisis in the Caucasus may be a prelude to a series of other crises in the former Soviet region.

Since the 1990s, the U.S. idea of cooperating with Russia was to have it as a dependent partner that creates no problems for the execution of U.S. grand plans in the world. While lecturing Russia about importance of abandoning "19th-century geopolitical thinking," the United States waged war in the Balkans, initiated two rounds of NATO expansion, withdrew from the ABM treaty, established a military presence in Central Asia, invaded Iraq, and announced plans to deploy elements of ballistic-missile defense in Eastern Europe. In addition, the Western media increasingly portrayed Russia as a potential enemy, and groups with anti-Russian preferences called on Washington to revoke Russia's membership in the G8, ban private investments, and recognize the independence of secessionist territories like Chechnya.

In early 2007, the Kremlin warned that such actions were unacceptable and that Russia intended to pursue a more assertive course in relations with the United States. The warning provoked a storm of negative commentaries in the West, yet was largely dismissed as a bluff -- after all, the Kremlin had been warning about the "serious consequences" of ignoring Russia's interests for the preceding 10 years.

The Kremlin, however, was determined to stop NATO's expansion and prevent the incorporation of states like Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance by all means available. After the recognition of Kosovo's independence and the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, Russia strengthened its ties with Georgia's separatist territories and indicated its readiness to go to war if provoked by Tbilisi. On August 26, the Kremlin recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in order to protect Russia's interests in the Caucasus. These interests include supporting Russian citizens abroad and preventing a military build-up on Russia's southern border. Georgia may eventually join NATO, but only at the expense of its territorial integrity and probably not with the humiliated Mikheil Saakashvili in charge.

Events are developing in a direction similar to what happened after World War II, when the two sides found themselves locked in a race to secure Europe on their own terms. Having made an enormous sacrifice in defeating the Nazi regime, Moscow felt vindicated in demanding the recognition of its newly acquired status and securing the "fruits of victory." The United States and Britain, however, were fearful of Soviet ambitions and soon pushed through their own plan for pacifying the continent.

Today Russia again is prepared to act unilaterally to stop what it views as U.S. unilateralism in the former Soviet region. And some in Moscow are tempted to provoke a much greater confrontation with Western states.

Although the Cold War is not a perfect analogy for describing the contemporary situation -- not with growing economic interdependence and the lack of an ideological dimension -- Russia and the West have demonstrated a growing potential for confrontation. Just as was the case when the Berlin Wall divided them, the two sides now may find themselves teetering on the verge of war in areas where their perceived security interests clash.

For example, Western states have recently indicated their support for Georgia, and several NATO vessels have entered the Black Sea -- officially to distribute a humanitarian aid, but in reality to intimidate Russia. With the latter's determination to secure its "fruits of victory" in Georgia, the former Soviet region may became a cordon sanitaire separating hostile powers. If Western leaders continue to push for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine by offering them Membership Action Plans (MAPs), confrontation with Russia is sure to escalate.

However, Russia is not an enemy of the West, which has historically established itself as Russia's "significant other." Russia's foreign policy is not expansionist and anti-Western; it is a response to policies based on ignoring Russia. It is possible that Russia did not advance on to the final defeat of Saakashvili's militaristic regime because the Kremlin anticipated a harsh reaction from the West.

Russia has demonstrated that it can play by the old geopolitical rules. But historically -- when progressive leaders are in power -- it has also been prepared to initiate new ideas and pursue cooperation with Western states.

But the West also has a role to play. Rather than lecturing Russia on how to be a good citizen of the world, the West should move the security agenda beyond NATO with new proposals for joint security. It is time for new leadership and thinking outside the old geopolitical discourse, and it is time for the West to recognize the link between its actions in the Balkans and instability in the Caucasus. Western states must accept that they have ignored Russia for too long and propose a constructive international agenda to remedy this miscalculation.

Andrei Tsygankov is a professor of political science and international relations at San Francisco State University. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
Crisis In Georgia
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here.


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Comments page of 2
by: Andrew Webb from: Tbilisi
August 27, 2008 19:05
Saakashvilis militaristic regime, which had 7 aircraft? Russia not agressive or anti western? Give me a break, this man should visit the burned out villages in the area aroung Gori which are currently being torched by the Ossetian and Russian forces, and explain to the refugees how Russia is engaged in a "humanitarian mission" get out of your ivory tower Mr Tsygankov. The Russia of today is no different to the abusive violent and often genocidal Tsarist and Communist empires of the past.

by: Mitch P. from: DC
August 27, 2008 20:33
Russia has been prepared to pursue cooperation with the West "when progressive leaders are in power"? Since when? If memory serves me right Bill Clinton was in power during the Bosnia and Kosovo wars. Russia's idea of "cooperation" was to back Serbia at all costs and brand Clinton and Albright as "war criminals". Clinton was as "progressive" as one can reasonably expect in America, but Russia still treated him as an enemy.

by: Fr. C. J. Simones from: USA
August 28, 2008 02:11
I agree with Andrei's commentary. American cannot continue to be the world's policeman. Historically this is nothing new. The Western Christian world has always looked down its nose at the Eastern Orthodox Christian. We are treated as second class citizens of the world. It is about time that someone stood up to Bush's bankrupt foreign policies. Our politicians in Washington are sleepwalking when it comes to foreign policy. Wake up America before it is too late. Islam is another issue that the West is ignoring and unless we wake up we will pay a big price.

by: Boris from: Moscow
August 28, 2008 07:15
How can a professor at San Francisco State University have such a line of thinking? In this piece Mr. Tsygankov never mentions the KGB/totalitarian regime in Russia, constant human rights abuse, and 10s of thousands of civilian Chechens carpet bombed and killed in cold blood. Mr. Tsygankov, denies outright the right of liberty and development to neighboring countries, as NATO membership is a warranty of freedom, path to civilized world. I will send a letter to the dean’s office at San Francisco State, so they take another look at Mr. Tsygankov's views that are very much in line with Mr. Zhirinovski, or any other Russian nationalist. He shouldn't be teaching Political Science at a major US institution.

by: Ivan from: London
August 28, 2008 08:23
Absolutely agree with Boris from Moscow. Perhaps it would be better for Mr. Tsygankov to return to Moscow where he would be appreciated. The Dean should really reconsider his employment.

by: Victoria from: UK
August 28, 2008 17:20
In his fair, and in my view, accurate analysis of current Russian foreign policy, Prof. Tsyganov does not condone Russia behaviour, but rather endevours explain why Russia is acting in this way. While some may be offended by this realist approach, it is nevertheless useful to understand it. Russia has all the trappings of a major power and it is unrealistic to expect Moscow to allow its interests to be ignored and its view brushed to the side, as has often been the case over the past 15 years or so. The recent military operations in Georgia can be seen as a means of reestablishing respect on the international stage.<br />Whatever President Medvedev might have said, Russia does not, on balance, have an interest in a new Cold War, but rather seeks cooperation with the West as a respected equal whose opinion is considered regarding major international matters, even if its interest were not directly involved. When its interests are involved, as in its borderland regions, it is seen as an affront, and as unilateralism when they are not taken into account.<br />A weak Russia was convenient for the West, and lacking a better strategy to integrate Russia, the West sought to lecture Moscow on how to become like the West. Such an attitude is not commensurate with recognition as a major power, which is in part defined by its distinctiveness.<br />

by: anemone from: uk
August 28, 2008 18:51
this new order is not easy to digest- the fact that first the states and the west did what they wanted to do, go into iraq, then recognised kossovo, russia now wants solid influence or, why not, control on countries on the black sea. europe 's got the west, china 's got east africa under its thumb with economic and arms blackmail or plain bullying and now is in sri lanka along with a big part of south east asia which translates into how many miles of warm seas? can the west convince russians the shield is not a threat to them but protection for supposedly christian countries against an islamic advance, because i think this is what it is. the strange thing is that although russia is weary of its fast growing muslim population because they seem to have larger families than anyone else, it's courting muslim /islamic countries for obvious purposes. i wonder which country will be next to say, i want to control this country. the united nations seem to be quite obsolete except when bullies want to let the rot get worse in burma or zimbabwe or tibet which are then called internal matters for their own convenience. the olypics were undeniably a perfect example of this dirty game called politics. in any case what will happen will, but this is also the time of the people.

by: Anton from: NZ
August 29, 2008 01:32
To Boris from Moscow - it is not less surprising, that such line of thinking is expressed by someone residing right in dr Evil's lair! My guess, Boris, this is the right time to change the country of residence for a more democratic one, for example swap houses with Prof Tsygankov or just move to Poland, before the oppressive regime locks its tentacles on your throat.

by: Marko from: Slovenia
August 29, 2008 08:25
I agree with commentary on one important point: &quot;The West does not understand Russia&quot;. I think that the most common misconception about Russia is that it, as a predominately Christian country, shares Western values. In fact, Russian way of thinking is much different and it is in this regard primarly Asian and not European country. It is completely impossible to deal with those people using Western arguing (lets take arguments and make conclusions). Russian way of thinking is quite opposite - we have some agenda and now let's find arguments supporting it.<br /><br />The point is - when you plan your relations with Russia, you always have to consider worst case scenario as the most realistic. If US was unable to win support for Georgia in NATO it should never propose for such a move in the first place. If they were eager to show a public support for Sakaashvili, they should be prepared to back it militarly - that is have a significant military presence in Georgia BEFORE Russian intervention.

by: Gia from: London
September 01, 2008 11:05
Professor Tsigankov do your Kremlin masters really believe that Russia's &quot;security&quot; concerns justify entire its neighbors to become a buffer zones, don't you think that other nations have their own needs for their future? It's 21st century for heaven's sake give up your barbarism, wake up , try to earn respect not fear. I feel sorry for Russian people and feel sorry for Tsigankov's students, I doubt he has any though.
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