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Russia: Moscow Playing 'Aggressive' Game, And U.S. Needs To Catch Up

Bruce Jackson (Courtesy Photo) PRAGUE, June 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A recent article by Jackson Diehl in "The Washington Post" suggests Western will to challenge Russia's democracy standards has crumbled ahead of the critical Group of Eight (G8) summit in July, where it is no longer clear the issue of Moscow's interventionist policies in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova will be on the agenda. The article cites Bruce Jackson, the head of the U.S. Project on Transitional Democracies, as saying Russia is playing an "aggressive, thought-out game" -- and that the United States is lagging behind. RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Salome Asatiani spoke to Jackson about the article, and his thoughts on the balance of power in U.S.-Russian relations.

RFE/RL: Your comment in "The Washington Post" article is pessimistic as to whether issues related to Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine will be on the G8 agenda. Some Russian experts we've spoken to claim that questions like these that are of regional importance are never addressed at major summits like the G8, where much wider issues are at stake. What's the reason for your pessimism on this question?

Bruce Jackson: First, let me respond to the suggestion of Russian academics that the quality and conduct of Russia's foreign policy, and its treatment of democracies near it, is a "regional" issue. That's nonsense. It's obviously an international issue of the first order. One might argue that at the [2005 G8] Gleneagles summit that the debt conditions of African countries were a regional issue. They are not a regional issue. They are of global concern.

At the [St. Petersburg] G8 summit there were hopes that we would address the frozen conflicts that remain frozen because they serve Russia's temporary foreign-policy interests, and address the issue of energy independence and the desire of Russia to pursue gas monopolies. There was a desire to basically talk about the standards of conduct among democratic, and particularly European democratic, states -- which was obviously a rebuke to Russian foreign policy toward its neighbors, which tends to be belligerent and bullying. So the question is not whether these issues will be addressed -- they are certainly addressed. The question that Jackson Diehl raised in the article was, "Is the West adequately prepared for these discussions?"

RFE/RL: It wasn't that long ago that strong comments were being made about Russia's policy toward its neighbors. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was very critical in his address to the Vilnius summit in May, and Washington seemed determined to press these issues at the G8? So what's changed? Has there been a shift in U.S. policy?

Jackson: I think obviously the U.S. policy is clear, as expressed by Vice President Cheney at Vilnius. And clearly, the profound [U.S.] disappointment in Russia's behavior has been growing for three or four years, at a minimum -- certainly all of Putin's second term, and presumably before that. The comment was specifically directed at the ability of multiple states -- the G7 -- to organize a single response, a joint response, to the problems Russia is posing for the international community. I think "The Washington Post" was criticizing the White House for not doing enough to develop that common agenda -- which is more a diplomatic failure than it is a shift in policy.

RFE/RL: Would you agree with that criticism of the White House? And if you do, what can be done to restore the idea of forging a single, joint response to Russia's actions?

Jackson: I generally do agree with the criticism advanced by "The Washington Post" editorial. The G8 was represented to the American people and the American public as being a centerpiece, in terms of a liberalized trade system, support for democracy, resolution of conflicts -- all the central political values that the G7 was organized to support. The fact that we are timid about prosecuting those issues and making it clear where we stand, simply because we are in St. Petersburg, seems to be a failure. Why that failure seems to be occurring, we do not know. Or the criticism could be unfounded, and President Bush and other G7 countries may actually come in with a serious and fully fleshed-out position.

RFE/RL: The article seems to be attributing great significance to the Iran nuclear crisis and Putin's agreement to join Western efforts to freeze Tehran's nuclear program. Is the West rewarding Putin by backing away from criticism of his foreign and domestic policy?

Jackson: The suspicion is that the only way to account for the slow pace at which Georgia is moving in its discussions with European institutions such as NATO and the EU, the tentativeness in other parts of Europe's East that we see in many categories, and the deference to Russian sensitivities can only be explained because they must be doing things for us elsewhere.

The rationale continues to shift. First they were helping us in North Korea; that didn't turn out to be true. Then they were supposed to be helping us in Iraq, and that also didn't turn out to be true. And now the conceit is that they must be going to do something for us in Iran. But that hasn't been done, and as far as I know isn't true either. So there is a search for some realistic explanation to explain what apparently is a go-soft policy on Putin's authoritarianism.

RFE/RL: In this piece, you are quoted as saying that Russia is playing a thought-out, aggressive game. What did you mean? What is this thought-out game?

Jackson: The orchestration of the use of the energy weapon against Ukraine and Moldova; the embargos of goods and services from Moldova and Georgia; the disruption of OSCE peacekeeping and peace resolution, from Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Transdniester -- coupled with essentially an economic bribery of European allies, whether it be [former German] Chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder or other initiatives -- all seem to be part of an overall strategy of recovering a sort of imperial status in the international system.

And there does seem to be an overarching and very aggressive diplomatic campaign going on, whether it be threatening Georgia or threatening EU ambassadors not to try to bar Russian companies from Europe -- and all at the same time to continue to try to romance the United States [to convince it] that there is some greater understanding that makes all this worthwhile. This is clearly carefully thought-out, it's very aggressive, and it seems to me that Moscow's been reasonably successful in dividing America from its allies in Europe. And I think these things need to be corrected.

RFE/RL: In the spring, it was announced that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was going to address the German parliament and was going to declare that the Caucasus would be at the center of the European Union's Eastern policy once Germany assumes the EU presidency in January 2007. Once the actual speech was made, however, the Caucasus weren't mentioned at all. Has there been a shift in EU policy in response to pressure from Russia?

Jackson: I can't speak to Angela Merkel's speechwriting team. Clearly, the chancellor has a more realistic view of Russia and its temptations. I think that that, over time, will become embedded in German policy. And I think it will be part of a new foundation of the trans-Atlantic understanding of this issue of how we work on the problem of Russia together.

The fact that it's not completely clear in the early months of her administration is not surprising. It's a coalition government; I'm sure there are a lot of countervailing forces. And we just saw her [predecessor, Schroeder] go to work for Gazprom, which is clearly a state company in Russia. So I think German policy will take one or two years to develop. I think Angela Merkel certainly has the right views of the Southern Caucasus and the independence of the Eastern states of Europe.

RFE/RL: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been invited to meet with U.S. President George Bush in Washington just ahead of the G8 summit. Can this be interpreted as a signal that Washington still supports the new democracy in Georgia?

Jackson: I think it's absolutely clear that President Bush supports the independence and self-determination of new democracies. He said that at Freedom Square in Tbilisi [in May 2005]. I think if anything, this is part of President Bush's personal message to President Putin about what he stands for and what the values of the United States and the allies are. It's also not an accident that he'll be here the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, and the fifth of July. I think that's nice symbolism.

Russia And The West

Russia And The West


COOPERATION, CONFLICT, CONFRONTATION: Relations between Russia and the West are notoriously volatile. "To see the kind of relationship that presidents Bush and Putin have developed and to see Russia firmly anchored in the West, that's really a dream of 300 years, not just of the post-Cold War era," then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said in May 2002.
But observers have increasingly called into question the extent of the shared values between Russia and the West, particularly on issues relating to the transformations going on in other former Soviet countries.


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